The first of a series of free-flight tests of the X-40A, a subscale, unpowered version of the X-37 technology demonstrator, occurred on Wednesday, March 14 from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. The small, stubby-winged X-40A was dropped from an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter at 15,000 feet above Rogers Dry Lake, and flew a fully autonomous straight-in approach and landing profile, touching down on the main Edwards runway 74 seconds after launch.
Primary objectives for the X-40A flight included validation of Computed Air Data Systems which will be used in the flight control system of the X-37, in-flight performance evaluation of its navigation system, evaluation of control room operations, and flight test of guidance, navigation and control software.
NASA is using the Boeing-built and operated X-40A to test the shape, guidance, and other systems for the X-37, which eventually will be carried into space on a space shuttle and return to Earth autonomously to test technologies for future reusable launch vehicles. Six more free flights of the 82-percent scale X-40A are planned at NASA Dryden. Built originally for an Air Force project, the X-40A had made one prior free flight at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, in 1998 before being loaned to NASA to serve as a risk-reduction technology demonstrator for the X-37 program.
Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., NASA's lead center for space transportation systems development, manages the X-37 program. Dryden Flight Research Center is responsible for the X-37/X-40A flight test activities.
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