FL - Troubled X-33 faces more delays

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August 11, 2000

Troubled X-33 faces more delays Technical problems to postpone first test flight at least 2 years By Tom Breen FLORIDA TODAY CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA remains committed to the experimental X-33 test launch vehicle, but the program faces long delays because of technical problems, a space agency official said Thursday.

Gene Austin, NASA's X-33 program manager, said the agency and its industry partner, Lockheed Martin Corp., have no intention of abandoning the program aimed at developing a fleet of single-stage launch vehicles that one day might replace the shuttle.

Although the X-33 program has cost NASA about $800 million and Lockheed Martin about $350 million, no one wants to back away, Austin said.

"None of us wants to see this come to an end," Austin told reporters in a telephone interview from Palmdale, Calif., where the X-33 is being built by NASA and Lockheed Martin. "We want to see the fruit of our labors."

But Austin conceded that the first test flight of the troubled X-33, which already has been delayed a year, will not occur until at least 2002 because of technical problems.

Austin's comments came the same day a NASA-directed report suggested that flawed fuel tanks on the X-33 may have to be replaced.

The building and designing of new tanks could take between 18 and 24 months, contributing heavily to further delays.

The fuel-tank woes are among many technical troubles that have plagued the X-33 since NASA teamed with Lockheed Martin in 1996 to produce the vehicle.

The X-33 is a half-scale prototype that is to lead to a full-scale version of a fleet of launch vehicles called VentureStar.

Several states, including Florida, are preparing plans to accommodate the VentureStar fleet, which would be launched like a rocket and land like a plane.

But first the X-33 prototype has to fly.


-- Doris (reaper1@mindspring.com), August 11, 2000

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