Headlines > News > SpaceDev: Scrapped X-34 to be reborn

SpaceDev: Scrapped X-34 to be reborn

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Wed Oct 27, 2004 9:31 am
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chabot imageBy Todd Halvorson Florida Today: CAPE CANAVERAL — A small California company aims to resurrect a scrapped NASA project and use the technology to build a spaceship that could carry tourists into space by 2008.

The so-called Dream Chaser also could serve as a hypersonic research plane for NASA or a piloted military spaceplane, the firm’s founder said.

“I really see Dream Chaser as a very practical, quick approach to safe, suborbital human transportation for whatever purpose,” said Jim Benson, chairman and chief executive officer of SpaceDev Inc. of Poway, Calif.

“And you’ve got to have human space transport if we’re going to have people working, living and playing in space.”

The Dream Chaser would be based on the design of NASA’s X-34, a suborbital spacecraft that never flew.

NASA started work on the 58-foot craft in 1996 and planned 22 flights to test new technologies that would drive down the cost of launching people and cargo into space.

The X-34 was designed to reach speeds up to Mach 8 at altitudes up to 50 miles. A small team would have demonstrated two-week turnarounds between test flights.

NASA invested $205 million in the X-34 before development delays and cost overruns prompted the agency to cancel the project in 2001.

The SpaceDev craft would launch like a rocket, carry at least three people to an altitude of 100 miles and then land like a conventional aircraft.

A SpaceDev hybrid rocket motor fueled by synthetic rubber and liquefied laughing gas would power the Dream Chaser.

A similar SpaceDev motor powered SpaceShipOne on the first privately financed space mission in June and two recent flights that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Benson said the SpaceShipOne flights gave the company “additional insight into the operation of a piloted suborbital vehicle” and “strengthened our belief that the X-34 is a good starting point” for a ship with similar capabilities.

SpaceDev’s plans got a boost recently when the company signed a cooperative agreement with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

The pact calls for the parties to investigate the possibility of using SpaceDev’s hybrid propulsion and other technologies to design new piloted craft that can provide routine, low-cost access to space in the near term.

Benson said the company is focusing on developing a hypersonic testbed for NASA while seeking financing for the Dream Chaser project.

“That’s a worthy project by itself. The commercial suborbital space tourism vehicle would be icing on the cake as would be any interest on the part of the military in a spaceplane,” he said.

“But with full funding, we believe that we could be flying on a regular basis a piloted suborbital derivative of the X-34 by 2008.”

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