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NASA Meatball NASA Dryden X-33 Advanced Technology Demonstrator banner
X-33 by Lockheed Martin above Earth - Computer Graphic X-33 by Lockheed Martin above Earth - Computer Graphic

Photo Number: EC96-43631-9
Photo Date: July 1996

Formats: 558x480 JPEG Image (43 KBytes)
1191x1024 JPEG Image (269 KBytes)
2000x1720 JPEG Image (322 KBytes)

This artist's rendering depicts the NASA/Lockheed Martin X-33 technology demonstrator for a Single-Stage-To-Orbit (SSTO) Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) at high altitude. The RLV technology program was a cooperative agreement between NASA and industry. The goal of the RLV technology program was to enable 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 improve U.S. economic competitiveness.

The X-33 was a wedged-shaped subscale technology demonstrator prototype of 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 was to have used lightweight components and fuel tanks built to conform to the vehicle's outer shape. Time between X-33 flights was normally to have been seven days, but the program had hoped to demonstrate a two-day turnaround between flights during the flight-test phase of the program.

The X-33 was to have been an unpiloted vehicle that took off vertically like a rocket and landed horizontally like an airplane. It was designed to reach altitudes of up to 50 miles and high hypersonic speeds. The X-33 Program was managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center and would have been launched at a special launch site on Edwards Air Force Base. Due to technical problems with the vehicle's composite liquid hydrogen tanks, the X-33 program was cancelled in February 2001.

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

Last Modified: December 21, 2004
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