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EDWARDS SPACECRAFT ROLE EYED ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWERS SEE NO SIGNIFICANT IMPACT.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - Edwards Air Force Base officials are positioning the base for future tests of experimental aircraft and spaceships by conducting an environmental review on the impact of approach and landing operations for such craft.

In a draft environmental assessment, Edwards is called a cost-effective site for such operations because of its long history with X-series planes and space shuttle landings.

Authors of the draft report concluded there would be no significant impacts to the environment because flight tests of such a vehicle would represent less than 1 percent of the normal flight activity already taking place at Edwards.

``Edwards AFB has historically been selected as a primary testing site for new aircraft and space vehicles because of the remote surroundings and viable landing options,'' the report says. ``The hard surface runways and the hard flat surface of the Rosamond and Rogers dry lake beds have proven ideal for parachute/parasail landings and normal aircraft landings.

``Edwards Air Force Base is a cost-effective location for re-entry landings because of the facilities in place, its remote location and previous success in its use for space shuttle and other unmanned vehicle flights and landings,'' report authors wrote.

The environmental report is being compiled in a joint effort by the Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which operates the Dryden Flight Research Center at the base.

``The selection of Edwards AFB as the preferred landing site for the re- entry corridor is based on extensive capabilities that exist at the site and the fact that flight corridors would most likely be over sparsely populated areas from the West Coast to the inland Edwards AFB landing site.''

The environmental assessment is not being conducted for any specific aircraft but rather for a ``generic'' one envisioned in the future.

The environmental assessment would support efforts to expedite Federal Aviation Administration licensing for craft returning from the International Space Station, including unmanned tests of a space station ``lifeboat'' or recovery vehicle from a commercial space venture.

``This is a document getting (the Department of Defense) ready to handle any future missions that might come up,'' said Phil Brady, a former Edwards official who is now a consultant on aerospace issues for the city of Lancaster. ``They are getting ready for whatever comes.''

The study envisions a wingless generic vehicle 30 feet long, 15 1/2 feet wide and 25,000 pounds. In comparison, the space shuttles are more than 180 feet long.

The generic vehicle resembles the X-24 lifting body tested at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Lifting body shapes are being considered in studies for a possible spacecraft that would be used to send astronauts to the International Space Station and could be used for a space station lifeboat.

Researchers for the report are looking at two main corridors. The first is a 140-mile-wide western corridor in which the spacecraft would come in over the California coast between Monterey and Santa Barbara. The spacecraft would cross the coast at an altitude of 108,000 feet.

The second corridor is 240 miles wide as it crosses southwestern Oregon and extends south through California over the Sierra Nevada. The unmanned spacecraft would cross the Oregon coastline at approximately 160,000 feet above sea level.

A number of other corridors were considered but rejected because they posed a risk of high casualties on the ground in the event of a crash.

The required runway length for the generic craft is between 8,000 and 12,000 feet. The primary runway at Edwards, Runway 22, is 15,000 feet long and 300 feet wide. No new or specialized equipment would be required to support the unmanned vehicle's approach and landing, the report says.

Approximately 30 minutes before touchdown, the unmanned spacecraft would begin entering the atmosphere at an altitude of about 400,000 feet. At approximately 45,000 feet and within five nautical miles of Edwards, the spacecraft would begin to maneuver for the final landing approach at the desired altitude and speed.

The final approach and landing would be accomplished through a shuttle-type landing pattern on either Runway 22 or on Rogers Dry Lake.

``The open terrain and lack of vertical features has contributed to the safe recovery of many test vehicles, something that would not have been possible in a less remote area,'' the report says.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 10, 2002
Words:736
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