Grounded NASA Space Plane Poised for rejoinder
A decade after they were unceremoniously sideline, two experimental NASA space planes could be on the cusp of a staged comeback. Last week, NASA contractor moved the two, 59-foot-long X-34s from open storage to a examination pilot school in California’s Mojave Desert. There, workers from Orbital Sciences, the X-34’s innovative builder, will inspect the two robotic rocketships with an eye to flying them again. If the X-34s have detained up since their 2001 parking, they could help boost America’s tiny-but-growing arsenal of super-fast, economical, reusable spacecraft.

The X-34 program was a product of a mid-1990s space plane craze that aimed to decrease the number of rocket stages wanted to get into orbit. Over approximately a decade, NASA and the Air Force experimented with a number of single step vehicles. Some of those programs hit insuperable technical obstacles. Others confirm too expensive. By the early 2000s, nearly all of them had gone defunct. After spending $200 million, NASA shut down the X-34 program before the first flight, quote “technical risk” mostly associated to the craft’s engines. Moreover, the space agency had lost faith in the entire idea of cheap, single-stage spaceflight.

Then, in 2004, famed aviation designer Burt Rutan and aerospace firm Scaled merged launched their rubber fueled Space Ship One rocketship into near orbit, snagging a $10-million prize and show that low-cost space access actually was possible. That seemed to revive government space-plane efforts. Embattled tech reformer Franz Gayl got busy arguing on behalf of a plan to build space transport for the Marine Corps. The Air Force silently readied its mysterious X-37B “mini-Space Shuttle,” which today prowls orbit on secret errands. Now NASA could get back into the space plane game in short order, give the X-34s are still flyable.

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