ISS NASA has selected a number of companies to enter into
competitive negotiations for the Space Launch Initiative
(SLI). As defined in the President’s budget blueprint for the
Agency, the Space Launch Initiative provides commercial
industry with the opportunity to meet NASA’s future launch
needs, including human access to space, with new launch
vehicles that promise to dramatically reduce cost and improve
safety and reliability. The primary focus of the Space Launch
Initiative is on technology development for concepts that
would be able to launch payloads for NASA, commercial and
military missions and be able to fly crew to and from the
International Space Station. Satellite delivery and future
International Space Station support are the primary set of
requirements for the new system and would include elements
like crew transfer vehicles, reusable launch vehicles and
orbital transfer systems.

NASA also announced today it will not add Space Launch
Initiative funds to the X-33 or
X-34 programs. As a result, the current X-33 program will come
to completion when the cooperative agreement between NASA and
Lockheed Martin expires on March 31, unless Lockheed Martin
chooses to go forward with the program with its own funds.
NASA is in the process of ending its X-34 contract with
Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, VA.

Continuation of both programs had depended upon their
successfully competing for Space Launch Initiative funding
under a NASA Research Announcement that will lead to award of
some $900 million over the next two-and-a-half years. That
solicitation was issued in October 2000, and industry
proposals submitted in December 2000. Contract awards could be
awarded as early as April, but none of those negotiations will
X-33 or X-34. NASA determined that the benefits to be derived
from flight testing these
X-vehicles did not warrant the magnitude of government
investment required and that SLI funds should be applied to
higher priority needs.

More than 300 personnel from throughout NASA participated in
the SLI proposal evaluation process. “This has been a very
tough decision but we think it is the right business
decision,” said Art Stephenson, Director of NASA’s Marshall
Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL. Marshall manages the SLI,
X-33 and X-34 programs for NASA. “We have gained a tremendous
amount of knowledge from these X-programs, but one of the
things we have learned is that our technology has not yet
advanced to the point that we can successfully develop a new
reusable launch vehicle that substantially improves safety,
reliability and affordability.”

“The Space Launch Initiative will take us to that point. It is
a comprehensive, long-range plan to promote commercial
development and civil exploration of space and provides the
strategy and funding to enable at least two competing
architectures for full-scale development of a 2nd generation
reusable launch vehicle by mid-decade,” added Stephenson.
“Through focused risk-reduction activities and risk-reduction
technology development, we will make significant improvements
in safety, reliability and affordability over the launch
capability we have today. A new launch system that meets these
goals could begin operating early in the next decade.”

NASA began the X-33 program in 1996 as part of its Reusable
Launch Vehicle program. It called for the demonstration of a
subscale single-stage-to-orbit vehicle, one that would go from
launch stand to orbit without using multiple stages as the
Saturn moon rocket did or dropping rocket motors and fuel tank
like the Space Shuttle.

Using composite materials to reduce vehicle weight is one of
the keys to successfully developing a single-stage-to-orbit
launch vehicle. In November 1999 the X-33’s composite liquid
hydrogen fuel tank failed during testing. An investigation
into the cause of the failure revealed that composite
technology was not mature enough for such a use. Lockheed
Martin proposed to complete development of the X-33 by
replacing its two composite liquid hydrogen tanks with
aluminum tanks. NASA agreed to permit them to compete for SLI
funding to do so. But the benefits of testing the X-33 in
flight did not justify the cost.

NASA investment in the X-33 program totaled $912 million,
staying within its 1996 budget projection for the program.
Lockheed Martin originally committed to invest $212 million in
the X-33, and during the life of the program increased that
amount to $357 million.

The X-34 program also was initiated in 1996, to provide a low-
cost technology test bed that would demonstrate a streamlined
management approach with a rapid development schedule and
limited testing. A joint NASA/Orbital Sciences Corporation
review of the project last year revealed the need to redefine
the project’s approach, scope, budget and schedule. To ensure
safety and mission success of the X-34 it became necessary to
increase Government technical insight, hardware testing and
integrated systems assessments. As a result, the projected
cost of completing the X-34 program at an acceptable level of
risk rose significantly above the planned budget. NASA decided
that such additional funding for X-34 risk reduction would
have to be competed within the SLI evaluation process. As with
X-33, NASA determined that the benefits to be derived from
continuing the X-34 program did not justify the cost.