NASA is restructuring its aerospace research in the ... - Flightglobal


Nov 18, 2013 (3 years and 6 months ago)


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NASA is restructuring its aerospace research in the face of
budget pressures and demands from US industry for more
support for aeronautics
S aerospace research and devel-
opment is at a crossroads. The
industry's engine of innovation,
NASA, is stalled by budget over-
runs on the International Space
Station (ISS) and beset by criticism of its
investment priorities. The agency has
launched a fundamental revamp of its
research agenda, but could be pre-empted
by Congress' increasing concern that the
USA is losing its technology edge.
NASA, facing cost overruns on the Space
Station of between $4.8 billion and $5.4
billion, has been instructed by the new
Bush Administration to make the cuts nec-
essary to stay within the $25 billion pro-
gramme cap (see P30). While the ISS itself
is taking the deepest cuts, the conse-
quences are being felt across the agency.
The problems are evident in the confu-
sion surrounding NASA's experimental
vehicle programmes, most of which are
directly or indirectly threatened by budget
pressures and shifting priorities. Directly
affected is the X-38 programme, which is
demonstrating technologies for a Space
Station crew return vehicle (CRV). A
seventh X-38 air-drop test was conducted
successfully on 10 July, but the in-space
test planned for 2003 is unfunded follow-
ing the decision to shelve the CRV as part
of the ISS cuts.
The X-37 reusable spaceplane technol-
ogy demonstrator is also threatened indi-
rectly. Boeing is continuing to develop this
under a 1999 co-operative agreement with
NASA which calls for drop tests to begin
next year, but there is no funding for the
orbital tests due in 2004. NASA has not yet
decided whether to fund the X-37 under
its new Space Launch Initiative (SLI) pro-
gramme, which aims to develop technology
for a second-generation reusable launch
vehicle (RLV) to replace the Space Shuttle.
The Lockheed Martin X-33 and Orbital
Sciences X-34 RLV technology demonstra-
tors were cancelled earlier this year, before
either had flown, after NASA determined
their continuation was not the best use of
funds under the five-year, $4.85 billion SLI.
Both programmes had experienced sub-
stantial technical delays and cost overruns.
Meanwhile, the US Air Force is interested
in picking up the X-33, the X-34 and, pos-
sibly, increasing its role in the X-37 pro-
gramme, but has yet to make a decision.
Experimental aircraft programmes are
faring no better under budget pressures.
NASA's Revolutionary Concepts (RevCon)
programme, launched in 1999 as a way to
encourage development of experimental
aircraft such as blended wing-body and
joined-wing transports, has been stalled by
the debate over the agency's aeronautics
research spending, which industry argues
has slipped below acceptable limits.
The X-43 Hyper X programme remains
grounded while investigators determine
what caused the hypersonic research
vehicle's booster to fail seconds into its first
flight on 2 June. Meanwhile, under its
Environment Research Aircraft and Sensor
Technology (ERAST) programme, NASA
is racing to fly the Helios solar-powered
unmanned air vehicle (UAV) to 100,000ft
before time and money run out.
Playing a key role
Experimental air and space vehicles have
played a key role in US aerospace develop-
ment since the Bell X-l broke the sound
barrier in 1947.
NASA's restructuring of its aerospace
research activities was heralded with the
unveiling of the agency's $14.5 billion
fiscal year 2002 budget request in early
April, which saw aeronautics and space
research programmes being combined
under a single aerospace technology
enterprise. At the same time, research was