X-40A craft paves way for NASA's X-37 space plane
Posted: April 15, 2001

The X-40A vehicle successfully performed a second free flight test on April 12 at Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif. The X-40A was lifted by an Army Chinook helicopter to an altitude of 15,050 feet (4,587 meters) and released at 8:45 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, reaching a speed of 428 feet per second, to complete the test when the wheels rolled to a stop at 8:47 a.m. Pacific time.

X-40A released from the strongback. Both are attached by tether line to the CH-47. Photo: NASA-DFRC
The X-40A's free flight and landing tests are being conducted as part of NASA's X-37 program, intended to reduce the risk of flight testing the X-37 experimental re-entry vehicle. The X-37 will enable NASA to test advanced technologies in the harsh environment of space and in returning through Earth's atmosphere. The X-40A is an 85 percent scale version of the X-37.

This flight's X-40A test objectives focused on complex vehicle maneuvers, while the first free flight test on March 14 focused on a straight-in vehicle approach. Both tests demonstrated flight control and autonomous landing systems. A series of up to seven free flights is planned.

X-40A lands on Runway 22 after free flight. Photo: NASA-DFRC
The X-40A test vehicle, on loan from the Air Force, was built for the Air Force by The Boeing Company at its Seal Beach, Calif., facility. Before the NASA Dryden flights, it was free-flight tested once, in August 1998 at Holloman Air Force Base in southern New Mexico, for the Air Force's Space Maneuver Vehicle program.

Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., NASA's lead center for space transportation systems development, manages the X-37 program. Dryden Flight Research Center is responsible for the X-37/X-40A flight test activities. The helicopter and crew are from the U.S. Army Aviation Technical Test Center at Fort Rucker, Ala.