Feeds

NASA dusts off X15-successor rocket hyperplanes

Mach 8 X34s, mothballed in 2001, to fly at last?

High performance access to file storage

NASA has dusted off a pair of prototype hypersonic rocket-planes it has had lying around since the 1990s with a view to getting them flying. The X-34 project was cancelled in 2001 "for both technical and budgetary reasons", but now the mothballed rocket ships are being checked out to see if they are "potentially viable as flight demonstrators".

The X-34 rocketplane demonstrator pictured at Dryden. Credit: NASA/Tony Landis

Eat my smoke, X-15

The 60-foot-long X-34, under 1990s plans, was to be a very hot ship indeed - a successor to the famous X-15 rocketplane, which was dropped from a B-52 bomber mothership to reach speeds of Mach 6.7 back in the 1960s. NASA engineers expected the unmanned X-34 to top this handily and achieve Mach 8 after being released from a modified L-1011 jetliner, before coming in to an autonomous runway landing.

In the event, the X-34 project got no further than a couple of early test flights with the rocketplanes mounted under the L-1011 mothership: the prototypes were never released to fly free before the programme was cancelled. Since then, the two X-34s and parts for a third have sat in storage at NASA's Dryden research centre and Edwards airforce base.

Now, however, according to a NASA statement released last week, the X-34s have been moved to the Mojave Air and Space Port and placed in a hangar at the National Test Pilot School. There they will be examined by contractor Orbital Sciences, which originally built them and which operates the L-1011 mothership jet (this is normally used as a reusable first stage for Orbital's Pegasus rocket).

"Orbital will tell us whether these existing vehicles are potentially viable as flight demonstrators," says John Kelly, NASA bigwig.

The idea of the X-34s was and remains that they would be testbed technology-development craft aimed at a reusable orbital launcher that would follow them. The planes were designed from the outset to be cheap and simple to maintain and operate: their specially-developed "Fastrac" rocket engines burn kerosene rather than troublesome cryogenic hydrogen (though still using liquid oxygen as oxidiser) and they incorporate various other low-maintenance, low-cost technologies. The X-34 planned test programme had the goal of achieving costs of $500,000 per flight.

Full specs on the X-34 courtesy of NASA can be read here, and there are more pics here. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Video games make you NASTY AND VIOLENT
Especially if you are bad at them and keep losing
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Honeybee boffin STINGS OWN WEDDING TACKLE... for SCIENCE
Not the worst place to be stung, says one man
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.