Aerojet delivers X-38 Deorbit Propulsion Stage to NASA
Posted: January 26, 2002

Illustration of X-38 Deorbit Propulsion Stage. Credit: Aerojet
After three years of design, engineering and assembly, Aerojet on Friday delivered the Deorbit Propulsion Stage (DPS) for the X-38, NASA's full-scale prototype for the International Space Station emergency Crew Return Vehicle.

The DPS was scheduled to make its "first flight" Friday to Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston aboard NASA's oversized Super Guppy plane. NASA officials loaded the crated DPS onto the Super Guppy -- via the plane's hinged nose -- at Mather Airport near Aerojet's Sacramento facility.

At a ceremony at Aerojet, Matt Drutt, Aerojet X-38 program manager, commended the team's "dedication, patience and perseverance" in achieving this major milestone for Aerojet. He presented plaques to nearly 100 people who worked on the program.

"The key to success was a fundamentally sound program plan," said Drutt. "This delivery is the latest addition to Aerojet's heritage of support to NASA, following programs such as the Space Shuttle OMS engines, which have had 100 percent flight success, and the NEAR propulsion system. Soon, we will add the MESSENGER program to the long historical line of successful products we have provided to NASA for space transportation."

After the DPS is mated to the X-38 at JSC, NASA will conduct acceptance testing, followed by system integration, combined structural testing and other testing leading up to a flight test possibly in late 2004 or early 2005.

For the flight test, a Space Shuttle will carry the X-38 into space. Part of the DPS structure is an interface to lock the vehicle in place in the Shuttle's cargo bay. At an altitude near the Space Station, the Shuttle's robotic arm will lift the X-38 out of the bay and release it. Except for a crash dummy named Edgar, the X-38 will be unmanned. (It's designed for seven passengers). Once the two spacecrafts are at a safe distance, the DPS will fire in a calculated deorbit burn to bring the X-38 out of orbit. The DPS will fire its eight thrusters for approximately 30-45 minutes during descent. When the X-38 begins to reenter the atmosphere, the DPS will jettison and burn up. The X-38, with Edgar at the helm, will glide to a remote-controlled parachute landing, possibly in Australia.

Aerojet developed the DPS under a $23 million contract with NASA. The X-38 completed its highest, fastest and longest flight on Dec. 13, 2001, at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. In the eighth large-scale flight test for the program, the X-38 was released from a NASA B-52 aircraft at an altitude of 45,000 feet and landed successfully.

Aerojet, a GenCorp company, is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader principally serving the missile and space propulsion, and defense and armaments markets.