Space station 'lifeboat' passes second flight test
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The first prototype of the International Space Station's crew return vehicle had a successful second flight Saturday in California, NASA said.
Released by a B-52 bomber at 7,500 meters (23,000 feet), the unmanned, seven-ton X-38 ship touched down on the runway after gliding under a parafoil, said NASA spokesman Fred Brown.
The flight lasted 12 minutes and was "perfect," Brown said.
The X-38 project is designed to prepare an orbital "lifeboat" that will allow six people to evacuate the space station in case of an emergency.
The future vessel will return to Earth like the space shuttle, with no engine but using a parafoil. It will have skids instead of wheels.
It will be the first new human spacecraft to travel to-and-from orbit in 20 years.
Atmospheric drop tests of the X-38 will continue for the next two years using three increasingly complex test vehicles and higher altitudes, NASA said.
For the first test from space, scheduled for 2000, an unpiloted version will be deployed from the space shuttle and descend to a landing.
The X-38 is slated to begin operations aboard the International Space Station in 2003.
In the early years of the space station, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft will be attached to the station as a crew return vehicle.
But as the size of the station crew increases, a return vehicle that can accommodate up to seven passengers eventually will be needed, NASA said.
Space station lifeboat
Dryden Flight Research Center
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