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X-33 Proposal by McDonnell Douglas - Computer Graphic X-33 Proposal by McDonnell Douglas - Computer Graphic

Photo Number: EC96-43631-6
Photo Date: May 1996

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This artist's rendering depicts the McDonnell Douglas X-33 proposal. this was to serve as a technology demonstrator of a Single-Stage-To-Orbit (SSTO) Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV). McDonnell Douglas submitted a vertical landing configuration design which used liquid oxygen/hydrogen engines. NASA considered design submissions from Rockwell, Lockheed Martin, and McDonnell Douglas. NASA selected Lockheed Martin's X-33 design on 2 July 1996. The RLV technology program was a cooperative agreement between NASA and industry. The goal of the RLV technology program was to produce significant reductions in the cost of access to space, and to promote the creation and delivery of new space services and other activities that would have improve U.S. economic competitiveness.

The X-33 was a wedged-shaped subscale technology demonstrator prototype for a potential future Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) that Lockheed Martin had dubbed VentureStar. The company hoped to develop VentureStar early this century. Through demonstration flight and ground research, NASA's X-33 program was to have provided the information needed for industry representatives such as Lockheed Martin to decide whether to proceed with the development of a full-scale, commercial RLV program.

The X-33 design was based on a lifting body shape with two revolutionary "linear aerospike" rocket engines and a rugged metallic thermal protection system. The vehicle also used lightweight components and fuel tanks built to conform to the vehicle's outer shape. Time between X-33 flights was planned to normally be seven days, but the program had hopes to demonstrate a two-day turnaround between flights during the flight-test phase of the program.

The X-33 was an unpiloted vehicle that was designed to take off vertically like a rocket and land horizontally like an airplane. It was to have reached altitudes of up to 50 miles and high hypersonic speeds. The X-33 Program was managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center and will be launched at a special launch site on Edwards Air Force Base. The X-33 never flow, due to technical problems with the composite liquid hydrogen tank. The program was cancelled in February of 2001.

NASA Photo by: Computer art by J. Frassanito & Associates

Keywords: X-33; Lockheed Martin; VentureStar; RLV; Reusable Launch Vehicle; aerospike rocket engines; Dryden Flight Research Center; Marshall Space Flight Center; lifting bodies; McDonnell Douglas

Last Modified: December 21, 2004
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