National AeroSpace Plane Program Fact Sheet
NATIONAL AERO-SPACE PLANE PROGRAM FACT SHEET
Debra J. Rahn
NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have initiated
planning for a joint National Aero-Space Plane (NASP) research
program leading to an entire new family of aerospace vehicles.
Conceptually, a future aerospace plane would operate as an
airplane at hypersonic velocities (4,000 to 8,000 miles per hour)
in the upper atmosphere, or as a space launch vehicle capable of
accelerating directly into orbit.
NASA and the DOD have had ongoing hypersonic research for a
number of years. The proposed program unifies these separate
research efforts. Recent research in the areas of hypersonic
propulsion, advanced materials and structures, and computational
fluid dynamics has contributed to a consensus that an operational
aerospace plane may be possible by the year 2000. Tests of
supersonic combustion phenomena, ramjet theoretical computations,
development of high strength, lightweight, high temperature
materials and the availability of supercomputers for
engine/airframe design integration are among the examples of
recent technological advances that support this consensus.
The aerospace plane concept was defined during 1984-1985 in
a concept exploration effort by DOD and NASA with widespread
participation by industry. The concept centers on a hydrogen-
powered aircraft capable of horizontal takeoff and landing and
operating to orbital speeds (Mach 25) and sustained hypersonic
cruise within the atmosphere.
The current phase, which began in 1986, is the technology
development phase and consists of maturation of key technologies,
propulsion module development, and airframe design needed for an
experimental flight research vehicle. Engine modules will be
built and tested up to approximately Mach 8, the current
practical limit of wind tunnels for engine tests. An
experimental aircraft, designated the X-30, is planned for Phase
III to further develop and demonstrate the technologies
throughout the extensive flight envelope for both hypersonic
cruise and acceleration into low earth orbit. This research
aircraft will be sized to accomplish that research at minimum
Participants in the proposed program include NASA, DARPA,
Air Force, the Strategic Defense Initiative Office (SDIO) and
Navy, with each having approximately equal funding share for the
next phase of the program.
The operational applications of the technologies are of
major importance because of the potential for significantly
reducing payload-to-orbit transportation costs. A global flight
vehicle, a long-range air defense interceptor, and a civil
transport are also potential applications. Reduced space launch
costs and dramatically reduced transit times on longhaul airplane
routes would have significant economic benefit.
Within the DOD, the Air Force has been assigned overall
responsibility for the Aerospace Plane research program and has
established a joint program office at Wright-Patterson Air Force
Base, Ohio. Within the joint program, NASA is responsible for
overall technology maturation and civil applications. In
addition to executing Phase II of the program, under DARPA
direction, the Wright-Patterson office will explore future
applications and plans for vehicle fabrication and the flight
demonstration phase of the program.
In early April l986, NASA and DOD announced the award of
seven contracts with a potential total contract value in excess
of $450 million over 42 months. Two types of contracts were
awarded: propulsion and airframe. The propulsion awards,
approximately $175 million each, were made to General Electric
Co., Aircraft Engine Business Group, Cincinnati, Ohio, and United
Technologies Corp., Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Group, West Palm
Beach, Fla. Both companies will design and develop large flight-
type modules of the NASP airbreathing engines and test them in
The airframe contracts, each with an initial value of up to
$35 million, have been awarded to Boeing Co., Boeing Military
Airplane Co., Seattle; General Dynamics Corp., Fort Worth
Division, Fort Worth, Texas; Lockheed Corp., Lockheed California
Co., Burbank, Calif.; McDonnell-Douglas Corp., McDonnell Aircraft
Co., St. Louis; and Rockwell International Corp., North American
Aircraft Operations, Los Angeles. During the first year a broad
design competition will be conducted with a resultant down
selection to two or three airframe contractors. The winners will
then design and fabricate certain critical components of a
vehicle and produce a preliminary design for the flight
Final selection of contractors to fabricate the flight
demonstrator vehicle is planned in 42 months. All five
corporations have organized special interdisciplinary technical
teams from different parts of their organizations in order to
support the aerospace nature of the program.
- END OF BACKGROUND ON NATIONAL AEROSPACE PLAN PROGRAM -
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