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X-38: Crew Return Vehicle

The X-38 program has been discontinued. The following article is for historical use.

First free flight test of the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle prototype.
The first free flight test of the X-38 prototype was successfully completed on July 9, 1999, at Dryden.

During the first years of the International Space Station's life on orbit, a Russian Soyuz capsule will always be present to provide crewmembers with the means to evacuate the station quickly. But work is well under way on development of the new emergency crew return lifeboat for the International Space Station.

X-38 Project Manager John Muratore says the X-38 project has two real purposes.

"The first is to prove that we can build a low-cost crew return vehicle for the space station," says Muratore. "The second, more general purpose is to prove that we can build human spacecraft for an order of magnitude less cost than ever before. The original crew return vehicle project was costed as much as 2 billion dollars back in the late 1980's but under the X-38 project we're going to build and test-fly a prototype in space for less than a tenth of that."

The X-38 prototype begins its eighth free flight test.
The X-38 prototype begins its eighth free flight test on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2001.

The vehicle's construction remains economical because of several factors. The X-38 uses a lifting body design already proven and tested in experimental vehicles of the 1970's. Additionally, parts of the X-38 can be bought over the counter, using existing technology rather than technology invented from scratch - a marked difference from past NASA spacecraft.

"Once this vehicle is attached to the space station, let's say we have to fly away from the space station and go get something and bring it back. For example, we might choose to launch a cargo that could not fly itself to the station. If we wanted, we could fly away and get the cargo and bring it back. We could modify this design after the basic lifeboat function has been developed so it could fly away and do utility jobs. It's sort of a pickup truck for the space station."

Want To Know More?
*New Technology Helps X-38 Team Overcome Parafoil Challenge (January 1998)
* Team Flies Largest Parafoil Parachute in History
*NASA X-38 Team Flies Largest Parafoil Parachute in History (February 4, 2000)
*First Flight Test of Second X-38 (March 4, 1999)
*Aerojet Gencorp Awarded Contract to Build Propulsion Stage for X-38 (August 18, 1998)
*New Program Smooths X-38 Test Operations (August 7, 1998)
*In July First X-38 Atmospheric Vehicle to Begin Flight Tests (June 4, 1997)
*First X-38 Atmospheric Test Vehicle to be Loaded for Shipment (May 30, 1997)
*X-38 Technology

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/27/2003
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