NASA PLANS PUBLIC MEETINGS ON X-33.
NASA officials will canvass communities across the western United States to hear environmental concerns about the flight tests of the X-33, a prototype of a spacecraft intended to replace the space shuttle.
Starting Oct. 21, meetings will be held in Montana, Utah, Washington and California as part of the effort in preparing an environmental impact statement for the X-33 program. Meetings in the Antelope Valley are scheduled for Nov. 12 in Lancaster and Nov. 14 in Boron.
``What we want to do right now is get concerns and find out the things people want to know,'' said Dom Amatore, spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
NASA and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the X-33's prime contractor, are looking at possible landing sites at Silurian Lake, a dry lake bed north of Barstow; China Lake Naval Weapons Center near Ridgecrest; Michael Army Air Field at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah; Moses Lake in Washington; and Malstrom Air Force Base in Montana.
Blasting off from a new launch center to be built at Edwards Air Force Base, the pilotless spacecraft is scheduled to make its first flight by March 1999 and the program is required to complete at least 15 flights by December 1999.
Like the space shuttle, the wedge-shape X-33 will be launched vertically and land like an airplane. Unlike the shuttle, however, the X-33 will not shed any parts, such as booster rockets, during flight. In spaceflight terms, it is a ``single stage to orbit'' craft.
During flight, the X-33's engines will burn until the craft reaches its intended speed and altitude - up to about 10,500 mph and 250,000 feet. Then the engines will cut off and the vehicle will glide to a landing.
After each flight, the X-33 - about half the size of the space shuttle at 67 feet long - would be ferried back to Edwards by a modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
A former Edwards official who is now an aerospace consultant to the city of Lancaster said the launches will be loud, but the spacecraft will be very high by the time it leaves the base's border.
The fuel it uses will produce water as its main byproduct, and landings will be similar to that of the space shuttles, whose distinctive twin sonic boom is familiar to Antelope Valley residents, said consultant Bob Johnstone.
The roar of the X-33's engines will be loud during takeoff, but by the time the craft flies over the base boundaries it will be 90,000 feet in the air and should cause few noise problems during flight, Johnstone said.
The X-33's landing profile is similar to the space shuttle.
The X-33 will use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as propellants. Its primary byproduct from combustion is water, so emissions shouldn't be a concern, Johnstone said.
The X-33 itself will not go into orbit, but it is intended to lead to the production of a spacecraft which will lower the cost of putting satellites and other payloads into space. NASA's goal is to reduce the cost from $10,000 a pound to $1,000 or less.
The Lancaster meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Best Western Antelope Valley Inn, 44055 Sierra Highway.
The Boron meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at West Boron Elementary School, 12300 Del Oro.
Written comments for the environmental impact statement can be mailed to Dr. Rebecca McCaleb, director, Environmental Engineering and Management Office, Code AE01, Marshall Space Flight Center, AL 35812.
Comments also can be sent by fax to (205) 544-8259 or by e-mail to x33eismsfc.nasa.gov.
Comments can be made additionally by calling (800) 833-0678 and leaving a message on the recording machine.