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NASA PLANS MAY HELP A.V.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - NASA unveiled a major overhaul of its 2003 budget request that includes extending the life of the space shuttle fleet and developing a new manned spacecraft - two efforts that could benefit the Antelope Valley.

The budget adjustment is raising hopes the Antelope Valley might once again get to perform space shuttle modifications.

The new budget plan also is raising expectations that work on NASA's proposed new spacecraft, dubbed the Orbital Space Plane, will include involvement by High Desert aerospace companies and possibly test work at Edwards Air Force Base. The plan also sends strong signals that the X-37 program, which has connections to Palmdale and Edwards, will be funded for further work.

``The new plan makes investments to extend shuttle's operational life for continued safe operations,'' officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said in a statement announcing the budget changes. ``The Orbital Space Plane is designed to provide a crew transfer capability, as early as possible, to ensure access to and from the International Space Station.''

Originally targeted for retirement in 2012, the space shuttle fleet now will fly at least through 2015, the earliest date that a shuttle replacement could first fly. NASA will decide by 2010 whether the space shuttle fleet will fly through 2020.

With the extension of the shuttle's life, NASA will be investing $1.6 billion through 2007 into major upgrades to the fleet to improve safety and reliability.

NASA also is planning to increase the number of flights the shuttle fleet makes from four to five a year to better support science activities on the International Space Station.

Palmdale had been the site of almost all of the previous shuttle modification projects until NASA announced in February that it was shifting that work to Florida to save money.

Antelope Valley officials are hopeful the upgrade efforts and the higher rate of shuttle flights will send orbiter modification work back to Palmdale, where all of the orbiters were built.

``I hope that is the case,'' Mayor Jim Ledford said. ``From what we've been told and from what we've read, flight rate does play a role in deciding where the work is done. Palmdale gives them a better way to manage their facilities with an increased flight rate in Florida.''

NASA's plans call for the Orbital Space Plane to be launched atop a booster rocket, such as a Delta IV or an Altas V, into space. The plane would then be maneuvered to dock with the space station.

While the space agency is looking at using the Orbital Space Plane to both take astronauts to and from the space station, the initial use would be to attach such a spacecraft to the station for use as a lifeboat in case the crew has to make a quick return to Earth.

By starting off with a crew return vehicle, or lifeboat function, NASA would be able to expedite the use of the vehicle by not having to worry about having a booster rocket certified for human spaceflight. The earliest use for the vehicle is 2010.

Eventually, NASA would have to develop a booster rocket or some other type of launch system certified for human spaceflight.

NASA will be investing $2.4 billion into the Orbital Space Plane development through 2007.

The space plane proposal likely means more work for the X-37 program. The X-37 will help test technologies, such as automated approach and landing systems and thermal protection systems, which could be used on the Orbital Space Plane.

Boeing's Phantom Works is building the first of two X-37 vehicles at Palmdale. A high-altitude test vehicle is being built under a joint Boeing/NASA/Air Force contract, but funding for construction of an orbital flight test vehicle was uncertain as NASA underwent a change in administration and as the agency went through a series of reviews on its plans for future spaceflight.

``We are anticipating NASA will give us the go-ahead for an orbital vehicle,'' said Kevin Neifert, division director of Advanced Space and Launch Systems for Boeing Phantom Works.

Boeing submitted a concept of an orbital space plane to NASA that resembles a larger X-37, about the size of a business jet.

``We really look at this (budget adjustment) as a real positive thing from a Boeing perspective,'' Neifert said.

Companies likely to compete to develop the Orbital Space Plane include Boeing, which built the shuttle fleet and is working on the X-37, and Lockheed Martin, which has conducted design studies on such a vehicle and even produced a mock-up of an orbital plane in the early 1990s.

If such a vehicle were to be developed, Edwards Air Force Base would be a major candidate for flight tests. In fact, the base is working to better position itself for future spacecraft testing by conducting an environmental impact report of approach and landing operations for such a spacecraft.

Edwards also has experience in working toward the development of an orbital space plane. In fact, Edwards pilots, both from the Air Force and what is now NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, were involved in a similar space plane effort in the late 1950s and early 1960s known as the X-30 Dyna-Soar project.

To start the development of the Orbital Space Plane, NASA will reprogram nearly $300 million out of its Space Launch Initiative this year. The Space Launch Initiative was originally an effort to develop a replacement for the space shuttle during this decade.

The Space Launch Initiative is now being restructured to support the development of the Orbital Space Plane and to develop technologies leading to a new spacecraft that could be developed after 2009 to replace the space shuttle.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 15, 2002
Words:953
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