NASA WILL SELECT its industry partner for the X-33 single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO), technology-demonstrator in July, and plans to begin initial flight tests in early 1999. The vehicle could lead to the development of a replacement for the Space Shuttle.

A draft co-operative agreement notice for the design, fabrication and flight test of the X-33 has been issued. Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, McDonnell Douglas and Rockwell International, all competitively working on 15-month X-33 Phase 1 concept-definition and design contracts, are expected to respond by 22 January.

A decision on the choice of industry partner is due by the middle of the year. NASA and its chosen industry partner will share the Phase 2 programme costs, with the space agency budgeting $900 million up to 1999.

The Phase 2 programme will "...determine if SSTO will work", says Gene Austin, NASA's X-33 project manager.

He says that it will give government and industry the means to decide by 2000 the feasibility of industry-led development "of an operational next-generation re-usable launch vehicle [RLV]".

Development of the RLV could begin in 2000, leading to a flight test in 2004 and entry into service in 2005.

Source: Flight International