Spacelift Washington: New X-33 Plans; Tourists on Mir

By frank_sietzen
October 2, 2000
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Spacelift Washington

Spacelift Washingon Archive

In this issue:

  • X-33 Casts a Long Shadow on NASA Space Transportation Plans

  • Also: ‘Pssst-Wanna Soyuz? They can get it for you wholesale. ..’

    X-33 Casts a Long Shadow on NASA Space Transportation Plan

    WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 – Now it is official. The troubled X-33 project won’t fly the first of its test flights until 2003-about five years behind its original schedule. And to actually get the lifting body spacecraft prototype into the air will require funds from the civil space agency’s FY2001 Space Launch Initiative. The initiative was crafted to generate an industry candidate for human spaceflight missions and cargo flights- precisely what the original X-33 was to lead to. But at a Friday press conference, Lockheed Martin made it crystal clear that such an operational vehicle evolved from X-33, once called the VentureStar -would have to be paid for by the U.S. taxpayer.

    NASA has decided to release the remaining X-33 funds -which by the original plan were to be released to pay for the flight test increment- to complete assembly of the spaceplane and to take the project to March, 2001. At that time both NASA and Lockheed Martin are to have a plan whereby the X-33 competes for its remaining funds against other SLI-derived project ideas. And how much of the FY2001 $290 million SLI dollars would X-33 need to fly? Stay tuned, because nobody seems to know.

    At least that’s what everybody is saying.

    Truth is, what everybody has known for months has finally become public knowledge. And that is there is no way short of cancellation to keep SLI and X-33 apart, despite the disparity of their timetables. That disparity was glossed over Friday at the joint press conference acknowledging X-33’s revamped fate. As it stands now, the SLI-derived competition would result in a 2005 decision by NASA to contract with at least 2 launch providers for human spaceflight missions. But with X-33 flying in 2003 (and some are saying consider that to be late 2003), the results that dictate the viability of the vehicle’s design and performance won’t be known until 2004-pretty late in the original SLI development timetable.

    And does anyone really see NASA not selecting X-33 for actual test flights, instead taking the completed vehicle and hanging it in the Tranquility Base museum in Huntsville? For $922 million of the public’s money X-33 will fly-someday, somehow, SLI money or not.

    But the final shape of the system that evolves to replace the space shuttles is not yet clear, and won’t be, can’t be until X-33 finally does what its developers and advocates first proposed that summer day when Al Gore revealed a scale model of the spacecraft to the waiting world.

    Meanwhile, more shuttle upgrades are still needed and the expendables keep flying, with the first launch of a Delta IV EELV scheduled next year.

    The Incredible Lightness of Station

    If you think the confusion over future space transportation is bad enough, consider last week’s noise about MIRCORP and Dreamtime (ah, what a perfect name for this project) and the supposed race for sending another tourist to a space station near you. One might call the splash late in the week ‘Soyuz, Soyuz, whose got the Soyuz. ..’. As of now, MIRCORP says it has the only ticket for a private Joe to see actual spaceflight. But others are quietly claiming that Dreamtime is shopping a Soyuz seat around with the active blessing and participation of the Russians.

    And while Dreamtime’s PR folks moved quick to quash the rumors, seems like some folks in DC with supposed ties to the California company were claiming otherwise.

    What’s it all mean? It means that private citizens want to go. And nobody seems keen on waiting either for the completion of ISS or the fate of MIR to determine who goes first and when. The delicious irony of this is that the instrument that is making any of this possible isn’t the shuttle system but a 50-year old space capsule and its ICBM-derived booster that we were all told once was obsolete.

    Obsolete? Whatever its faults and shortcomings, it’s starting to look like the Soyuz has the real e-ticket….

    Stay tuned.

    SPACELIFT WASHINGTON © 2000 by Aerospace FYI Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction allowed with permission. The information contained herein are the authors own and are not affiliated with any other society, organization, or institution. Publication does not constitute endorsement of either editorial content or sponsoring web site.
    Have information about space transportation? Email the editor at sietzen@erols.com