NASA and Lockheed Martin are studying the use of the X-38 International Space Station (ISS) crew return vehicle with the proposed VentureStar single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane. The work, which is at a conceptual stage, is aimed at providing an alternative to the Space Shuttle as an ISS transporter.

The X-38, a prototype of which is being prepared for its second automatic atmospheric glide-test flight, will provide emergency return capability from the ISS for six crewmembers. Under present plans, the re-entry vehicle will be carried to the ISS in the Space Shuttle's payload bay and will be manned only for the return journey. A simulated unmanned ISS return flight will be made during a Shuttle mission in 2001.

Launching the X-38 "piggyback" on the Lockheed Martin VentureStar, with six crew, will be studied as an alternative way of reaching the ISS. Other operational missions will also be investigated. The study is only conceptual, since the VentureStar is not yet funded and its private venture development - with a little research and development help from NASA - depends on a successful series of up to 15 test flights by a half-scale technology demonstrator, the X-33.

Jerry Rising, vice-president for X-33/VentureStar programmes, says the X-33 "-will be rolled out in May 1999 and its first flight is scheduled for July".

Source: Flight International