Today NASA released images of its new prototype spacecraft, the X-99. They estimate is will cost three billion dollars and take five years to develop. Experts predict it will end up like all the other NASA programs by running over budget by $100 billion and produce no useful hardware.
Boeing was contracted to produce the $173 million dollar spacecraft. The contract is for a duration of four years and to develop the technology that will hopefully one day become the fully reusable spacecraft called te VunterStar. The reusable spacecraft will demonstrate advanced vertical takeoff and landing technologies as well as demonstrate technologies that will make space transportation more affordable and reliable.
"If the flight tests are successful then potential markets for the spacecraft include, on-orbit satellite maintenance, orbital construction worker taxi, and passenger tourism transportation," said Ron Prosser, vice president of Advanced Space and Communication for Boeing Phantom Works in Seal Beach, Ca.
The X-99 measures 37.2 feet in diameter and 4 feet high and has flight controls for two pilots.
The X-99 lacks the advanced thermal protection that the VunterStar will have, but it is powered by a scaled down thrust vectoring aerospike engine. The electronics and software that will guide the X-99 are the same as those that will be used in the VunterStar. "The X-99 is letting us workout any bugs that may work their way into the flight software. By using the same flight hardware and software in the VunterStar we hope to reduce the development time by one third," said Susan Turner X-99 project manager for NASA's Marshall Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
The two pilot X-99 launch demonstrator will in both orbital and non-orbital condition and will be capable of operating at speeds in excess of mach. 7. The more advanced speeds will not be obtainable until the advanced thermal shielding is installed in late November.
The goal of the X-99 is to flight test the technologies that will be implemented in the fully reusable single stage to orbit VunterStar.
The X-99 design team is lead by Boeing engineers Seann William Scott, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Jason Biggs.