9 August 2008
Events - Vehicles (Good)
21st Century Space Access Seminar and Workshop
Meet the DC-X team in New Mexico
by G B Leatherwood
On August 17, 18, and 19, 2008 the New Mexico Museum of Space History at Alamagordo, New Mexico, along with its partners the , the Space Frontier Foundation, and Spaceport America, will host the DC-X/XA Reunion and 21st Century Space Access Seminar and Workshop.

Both the dates and location are significant because they mark the 15th anniversary of the first public flight of the McDonnell-Douglas DC-X. The DC-X was the result of two years of fast-track design and development of a test vehicle to demonstrate the technology and operational concepts for a single-stage-to-orbit ( SSTO) rocket ship that would have major military and commercial applications. It was a bargain at US$52 million.

The goal of the project, named “Delta Clipper” by project director Bill Gaubatz, was to create low-cost space transportation that could operate with the safety, reliability, and reusability of an airplane. The DC-X was intended as a test vehicle to be followed by a larger and more powerful version to be called the

On August 18, 1993, a fat, cone-shaped rocket pushed its way through a cloud of New Mexico desert dust raised by four United Technology/Pratt & Whitney RL10A-5 rocket engines. For the next few minutes, the stubby 42-foot tall craft hovered on its nearly invisible flames, slipped sideways just to show it could, and then settled gently back where it started on four spindly little legs that popped out just when they were supposed to. One observer said he fully expected to see a little green man emerge with a ray gun.

Although both the first “test bed” rocket and its larger successor, the DC-Y were successful, the project never reached its intended conclusion.

Opinions vary as to why this happened, but the reality is that the program, originally funded under the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) was (grudgingly) taken over by NASA and eventually terminated in favor of the Lockheed X-33. Unfortunately, after the expenditure of US$1.3 billion, the X-33 was canceled by NASA in 2001, after a long series of technical difficulties, including flight instability and excess weight.

Gaubatz, organizer of the reunion and the original director of the Delta Clipper Project, said, “We know that the team’s visions for aircraft-like space access operations and experience with rapid prototyping development still have a lot to offer the ‘new’ space companies and maybe even inspire some of the ‘old’ space companies to re-engage. In addition we will be using the event as a kick-off for fund raising to develop a permanent DC-X/XA exhibit at the museum.”

Asked how many people have been invited and are expected to attend, Gaubatz said, “We expect somewhere between 60 and 100, but not all of those were part of the original team. There weren’t many of us.”

The project showed that it was possible to design and build a successful SSTO using technology, parts, and systems readily available at the time. For the first flights, held at the "Space Harbor” facility of the White Sands Missile Range, only three controllers manned the converted trailer, foremost among them veteran astronaut Pete Conrad. Part of the demonstration was to show that a vertical take-off and landing ( VTOL) craft could be fully automated, fly itself, land, and be resupplied and refueled with very short turnaround times. In fact, two flights were made within eight hours.

Gaubatz said, “There will be plenty of organized and unorganized opportunities for people to meet old friends, make new ones and share the fun, frustrations, hard work, and accomplishments of the Team.

“But this event,” he said, “is about planning for the future as we reignite the vision, profit from the experience and commit to creating a 21st century of aircraft-like space access. During the three days, we will relish the accomplishment of the past and invent new paths to the future.”

For the complete schedule of events, keynote speakers, panel participants, special activities, and housing and transportation availability, visit www.dcxproject.com, or contact Cathy Harper, director of marketing/public Relations, New Mexico Museum of Space History by e-mail at Cathy Harper [ a t ] state.nm.us.
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G B Leatherwood 9 August 2008
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