- Press Release
- Mar 28, 2023
X-38 Intercepts Road Home From Orbit in Sucessful Flight Test
The path a future space “lifeboat” would take returning from orbit was successfully navigated today as NASA’s X-38 prototype crew return vehicle completed its fifth atmospheric test flight at the Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.
“We traveled a road for the first time today that we will soon follow all the way home from space,” said John Muratore, X-38 Crew Return Vehicle Program Manager. “By intercepting the spaceflight return profile, we verified the X-38’s operation in a phase of flight it will encounter as a station lifeboat. As our tests continue over the next couple of years, they will replicate those conditions more and more, culminating in a complete return from orbit.”
In the highest, fastest and longest test of the X-38 to date, the vehicle was released from Drydenís NB-52 airplane at an altitude of 39,000 feet and flew free for 44 seconds, reaching a speed of over 500 miles per hour before it began to deploy its parachutes. Opening at the same speed and altitude as it will during a return from space, a 60-foot diameter drogue parachute first slowed the X-38 to about 70 miles per hour.
Then, a 5,500-square foot parafoil began a phased opening, successfully demonstrating a new, more stable parafoil design recently developed by the X-38 team. The revised parafoil proved successful in ensuring a smooth ride for the craft during its 11 1/2-minute descent. The X-38 touched down smoothly on target, even though one of three landing skids did not deploy.
“This is not art; it is now a science.” said Bob Baron, Drydenís X-38 project manager. “We understand the dynamics of parafoil deployment and some of the separation operations of the vehicle, which will play into the development of the X-38 space test vehicle and Crew Return Vehicles.”
The test also was the first use of automatic flight control software aboard the X-38. The new software, developed in a fraction of the time and cost of past spacecraft software, performed flawlessly.
The X-38 is a prototype “lifeboat” for the International Space Station, designed to carry up to seven passengers home from orbit in an emergency. The project combines proven technologies — a shape borrowed in part from a 1970s Air Force project — with some of the most cutting-edge aerospace technology available today, such as the most powerful electric motors ever used to control a spacecraft.
The innovative approach is enabling the X-38 to be developed at a tenth of the cost of past estimates for such a project. Although the United States leads the development of the X-38, international space agencies also are participating. Contributing nations include Germany, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, France, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Throughout the rest of this year and 2001, increasingly complex, uncrewed X-38 atmospheric flight tests will continue at Dryden. A space test of an uncrewed X-38 is planned for 2002, when a vehicle already under construction at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, will be released from a Space Shuttle to fly back to Earth.
Still photos and video footage are available from the Dryden Public Affairs Office to support this release. For photo prints or video dubs, please call (661) 258-3449.
Photos are also available on the Internet under NASA Dryden Research Aircraft Photo Archive, Dryden News and Feature Photos, URL: