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With fanfare, NASA rolls out space plane prototype


CNN's Miles O'Brien reports on the X-34 reusable rocket in development at NASA.
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April 30, 1999
Web posted at: 5:03 p.m. EDT (2103 GMT)

From Correspondent Miles O'Brien

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- Amid pomp and promises, NASA on Friday rolled out the first piece of hardware in it's X-34 test program at the Dryden Research Center in California's high desert.

It's designed to fly eight times faster than the speed of sound, knock on the doorstep of space, then return to Earth for a three-point landing.

The objective of the unmanned vehicle, which looks more like a jet than a rocket ship, is to make space a faster, cheaper and easier place to visit.

"These will be reusable launch vehicles that can be used over and over again ... to lower the cost of putting payloads and people into orbit in the future," said X-34 program manager Robert Lindberg.

NASA is spending $85 million for 27 test flights of the unpiloted X-34. Techniques and technology developed during the project may one day be used in a successor to the space shuttle.

The X-34 airframe is made of lighter carbon composites, and employs an advanced thermal protection system and state of the art avionics.

For the primary contractor, Orbital Sciences Corp., the X-34 could be the first step toward the lucrative commercial market of reusable launch vehicles.

"We also have an approach to reduce the cost of operating the vehicle to where we can turn the vehicle around and fly it again, using just a few people," says John London, a program manager for the project.

The long-term goal is to make reusable spacecraft as easy to operate as airliners. But that's exactly what was promised 30 years ago -- when NASA pushed another reusable launch system, the space shuttle.

NASA announces completion of 'space plane' launch port
March 5, 1999

NASA - X34 Rollout
   • NASA - New X-34 Spaceplane To Greet Public Today
Orbital Sciences
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center
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