July 10, 2001
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
An advanced X-38 prototype International Space Station test "lifeboat," assembled last year at Houston's Johnson Space Center, floated to a successful touchdown under the world's largest parafoil at 1 p.m. Central today at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, CA, completing the seventh large-scale free flight test for the X-38 project.
The landing test, begun at an altitude of about 37,500 feet when the X-38 was released at 12:47 p.m. from NASA's B-52 aircraft, verified recent enhancements made to the X-38's flight control software. The flight also checked advances in the two-stage repositioning deployment of a drogue parachute that initially slows the vehicle from 600 miles an hour to about 60 miles an hour and sets the stage for deployment of the 7,500-square-foot-parafoil wing. The surface area of the parafoil is more than one and a half times that of the wings of a 747 jumbo jet.
Program engineers also continued testing of European Space Agency-developed software that guides the parafoil, steering the X-38 to a safe landing. Several parafoil maneuvers were performed using the European-developed X-38 software. After a 13-minute gliding descent, the uncrewed X-38 touched down at a speed of less than 40 miles an hour on the clay surface of Rogers Dry Lake on Edwards Air Force Base.
"Each flight test of the X-38 incorporates technologies that have never before been used on a human spacecraft -- from satellite-based navigation to electromechanical actuators to the giant parafoil," said X-38 Crew Return Vehicle Program Manager John Muratore. "Every flight gives us invaluable insight into the performance of these technologies during an actual descent and brings us closer to proving them for use in space."
The test was the second X-38 mission using the giant parafoil, with a surface area more than one and a half times that of the wings of a 747 jumbo jet. The test also was the second flight of an X-38 shape that includes a semicircular cross section aft end, identical to the shape of an X-38 space vehicle planned for a test flight from a Space Shuttle in 2003 and now under construction. The European-influenced semicircular aft end could allow the X-38 to be compatible with launch on a European Ariane V rocket as well as aboard the Space Shuttle.
The X-38 project is developing technologies that could be used to operate a prototype "lifeboat" for the International Space Station. The project combines proven technologies -- a shape borrowed from a 1970s Air Force project -- with some of the most cutting-edge aerospace technology available today. Although the United States has led the development of the X-38, international space agencies also are participating. Contributing countries include Germany, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The Johnson Space Center leads the X-38 program and has outfitted the atmospheric test vehicles. A space test vehicle is currently under construction at JSC.
More information on the X-38 is available on the Internet at
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