ORBITAL SCIENCES (OSC) and Rockwell International have formed a jointly owned company, called American Space Lines (ASL), to develop, operate and market the X-34 small re-usable launch vehicle.

The project, being undertaken with NASA, will see the two companies invest $100 million in the project while the space agency will contribute $70 million in additional funds and use of facilities.

The X-34 is an air-launched, mostly re-usable, two-stage launcher consisting of a liquid-fuelled, fully re-usable, booster and a low-cost, expendable, orbital vehicle carrying a satellite. The booster/orbital vehicle, will be carried aloft, by a large airliner-type carrier. The replenishment of low-Earth-orbit communications-satellite constellations with single launches, and space-station-replenishment missions, are the major markets.

Following completion of X-34 testing in 1998, the firms expect to provide commercial launches of spacecraft weighing up to 1,135kg.

Final decisions expected in May, on the maximum payload, will determine the X-34's final configuration. Yet to be identified are the booster's size and power plant and the aircraft to carry the vehicle.

The smaller X-34A booster would be dropped from Orbital's Lockheed TriStar, while the alternative X-34B would be launched from atop a Boeing 747, possibly NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

Source: Flight International