Feeds

NASA dusts off X15-successor rocket hyperplanes

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

Security for virtualized datacentres

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. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
What's that STINK? Rosetta probe shoves nose under comet's tail
Rotten eggs, horse dung and almonds – yuck
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Kip Thorne explains how he created the black hole for Interstellar
Movie special effects project spawns academic papers on gravitational lensing
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
Moment of truth for LOHAN's servos: Our US allies are poised for final test flight
Will Vulture 2 freeze at altitude? Edge Research Lab to find out
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.