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Volume 3, No. 7                October 11, 1999
X33 Status Report

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, criticized NASA for not doing enough to support cheap access to space, during a hearing on NASAäs X-33 program (9/29/99).

"[T]he Administration made a mistake in hoping NASA and industry would develop a commercial Shuttle replacement simply by funding one experimental demonstrator," Rohrabacher said. "Instead of ‘build a little, test a littleä and ‘flyoffsä of competing vehicles, we put all of our ‘cheap access to spaceä eggs into one fragile technology basket."

Rohrabacher said NASA should "help many companies demonstrate different technologies in a competitive marketplace." Below are brief overviews of the testimony presented to the subcommittee:

Allen Li, Associate Director, GAO National Security and International Affairs Division

Mr. Li announced the findings of the recent GAO report, "Space Transportation: Progress of the X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle Program." According to Li, "Because of problems in developing technologies for the X-33, the program will not meet some of its original cost, schedule and performance objectives."

The initial test flight of the X-33 has been delayed 16 months due to problems in developing the vehicleäs fuel tanks, aerospike engines and heat shield. To resolve the technical difficulties will cost Lockheed Martin an additional $75 million and boost NASAäs contribution by about $18 million, according to the GAO. Despite the problems, Li said the "programäs December 2000 completion date remains unchanged."

If the X-33 proves successful, Lockheed hopes to develop a full-scale SSTO called VentureStar. Lockheed estimates it will cost $7.2 billion to build and begin operating two full-scale vehicles.

Li said there are numerous issues that need to be examined when considering the VentureStar as a replacement for the Shuttle, including: 1) possible government financial incentives that may be needed to build the vehicles; 2) NASAäs costs to modify the vehicle so it can transport humans to space; and 3) the impact on microgravity science aboard the International Space Station from additional flights because VentureStar transports less cargo than the Shuttle.

"[A] VentureStar vehicle would have to make two to three flights to provide as much cargo, as many people, or as much maintenance support to the space station as a single shuttle flight," Li said. NASA is planning to make five shuttle flights annually to the ISS, each costing $400 million or more. The expense for each VentureStar mission is unknown.


Jerry Rising, Vice President of Reusable Launch Vehicles, Lockheed Martin Skunkworks

"The manufacturing phase of the X-33 program is winding down and we are now in the midst of qualification testing and validation of key components," Mr. Rising said. "The X-33 test program will achieve all of the technical and operational objectives we established for the demonstration program."

The X-33 was originally designed to fly at Mach 15 in order to achieve maximum temperatures on the vehicle, but is now expected to reach only Mach 13.8.

"[I]t turns out that the slightly lower Mach number results in a slightly lower and hotter trajectory, which will produce hotter X-33 skin temperature," Rising said. "Essentially flying lower and slower will produce higher thermal stresses which will exceed the original trajectory and simulate re-entry conditions."

Summarizing his testimony, Rising said "the X-33 fabrication is almost complete. I am pleased to report the landing gear, wiring harnesses, the avionics box, the reaction control system, feed line and sensors for monitoring the performance of the vehicle are all in place....We have made significant progress on the full-scale VentureStar design and are currently testing its aerodynamic qualities in the wind tunnel."

Gary Payton, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator of the Office of Aero-Space Technology

Most of Mr. Paytonäs testimony responded to the GAO report. He said civil service salaries, benefits and some support services for the X-33 are funded from NASAäs mission support account and are not included in the X-33 program totals.

Fifteen flights are scheduled for the X-33, independent of the number of months required to complete them.

"If the industry team does not choose to complete all fifteen flights, they will not earn the milestone payments for any flights not completed," Payton said.

Looking ahead, NASA plans to include in next yearäs budget a detailed road map "for transitioning NASA to privately owned and operated reusable launch vehicles."

About the NSS Capital Capsule
The Capsule is a timely report of highlights and statements from Capitol Hill hearings and other events involving space issues. The Capsule and all others published to date are available online on the NSS website.

The National Space Society, founded in 1974, is an independent, nonprofit space advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, DC. Its 20,000 members worldwide actively promote a spacefaring civilization. Information on NSS and space exploration can be found at

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