X-38 Autonomous Crew Return Vehicle
The X-38 was a technology demonstrator for the proposed crew return vehicle (CRV), which was designed as an emergency vehicle for the International Space Station. Its basic structure was manufactured by Scaled Composites, Inc., Mojave, California.
The X-38 design used a lifting body concept originally developed by the U.S. Air Force X-23 (SV-5) and X-24A project in the mid-1960's. Following the jettison of a deorbit engine module, the X-38 was to have glided from orbit, unpowered like the Space Shuttle. Then would then have used a steerable, parafoil parachute (a technology developed by the Army) for its final descent to landing. Its landing gear consisted of skids rather than wheels.
Many of the technologies NASA was to have used on the X-38 had never before been applied to a human spacecraft. The X-38 flight computer was commercial equipment that was already in use in aircraft, and the flight software operating system was a commercial system already in use in many aerospace applications. The video equipment being used on the atmospheric test vehicles was existing equipment, some of which had already flown on the Space Shuttle for other NASA experiments. The electromechanical actuators used on the X-38 come from a previous joint NASA, Air Force, and Navy research and development project. A special coating that had been developed by NASA earlier was planned for use on the X-38 thermal tiles to make them more durable than those used on the Space Shuttle. The primary navigational equipment on the X-38 (the Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning System) was a unit already in use on military aircraft.
The first X-38, known as Vehicle 131, arrived at Dryden on June 4, 1997, aboard an Air Force C-17 transport aircraft. Flight research with the X-38 then continued for several years. NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, was the NASA lead Center for this program. The X-38 program was cancelled in March of 2002.