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For Release: July 2, 1996
Ann Gaudreaux
(757) 864-8150

RELEASE NO. 96-049

NASA Langley's Contributions to the X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle

America's next generation of space transportation, the reusable launch vehicle X-33, began to take a more tangible turn today as NASA announced the finalist for its X-33 RLV technology program competition.

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, Palmdale, Calif. will continue the Phase II portion of the program, which will focus on efforts to build and fly a scaled-down prototype of a reusable space transportation vehicle by 1999.

Technologies developed during the first phase of the X-33 program have included research, analysis and testing at NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.

"Langley employees were involved in a wide range of promising technologies for the X-33 program that can be used in future space systems for the government and commercial sectors," said Jim Arrington, of the NASA Langley Thrust Management Office, who heads Langley's efforts for the X-33 RLV program.

Workers from NASA Langley, a NASA Center of Excellence for Structures and Materials, performed research for reusable cryogenic tank systems, composite structures, the metallic and composite thermal protection system, vehicle systems analysis, aerodynamic and aerothermodynamic testing and analysis, structures and materials and flight control technology development.

"This first phase has successfully represented a new way of doing business where the government is teamed with industry partners, and industry has the lead," Arrington said.

"Teaming with industry partners worked well and all three teams had a significantly better configuration for the Phase II proposals than would have been possible without Langley's efforts," John Paulson, Experimental Hypersonics Branch, said. "The bottom line is we at Langley have three very happy customers."

Tuesday's X-33 award was based on bids from three California companies: Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, McDonnell Douglas Aerospace in Huntington and Rockwell International of Seal Beach.

Reusable launch vehicles are being tested by NASA as future spacecraft that can be used in the commercial market as well as for scientific research. The RLVs of the future are being designed to lower the transportation costs for research and manufacturing in space.

"Significant levels of demand for RLV-based launch services are expected from all U.S. space sectors such as civil, commercial, military and intelligence as well as from foreign governmental and commercial space sectors," Arrington said. "The private sector could play a significant role in managing the development and operation of a new reusable space transportation system."

NASA envisions that the Phase II portion of the X-33 program will demonstrate that the technologies are in hand so that industry can attract private investment in the commercial development and operation of full-scale, next-generation launch systems.

For more information and/or interviews, contact Ann Gaudreaux at (757) 864-8150/8199 (FAX), or by e-mail at For a timeline of the program, see the X-33 timeline.


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