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X-33 Stays Cool In Early Development Stage
News story originally written on February 5, 1999

Engineers have finished testing the thermal shields for the X-33, a prototype of a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle. The thermal shields passed a series of intensive tests that included time in a high-speed, high temperature wind tunnel and actual flights strapped to the bottom of an F-15.

"By developing and proving these systems, we're creating the ability to build space planes that eventually will fly to orbit, return for servicing, and launch again as often as today's commercial airplanes make scheduled flights," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA X-33 deputy program manager.

The thermal shields will protect the X-33 from extreme temperatures encountered during atmospheric re-entry. The panels are metalic and are easy to maintain. When used over insulating material, they will protect the vehicle from temperatures near 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

The X-33 is a half-scale technology demonstrator of a new reusable launch vehicle which will replace the space shuttle. The new single-stage-to-orbit RLV has been named the VentureStar. Officials hope that the VentureStar will reduce the cost of space travel from $10,000 per pound to $1,000 per pound.


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