Saturday, March 28, 2015

Retro Saturday: DC-X: The Future Is Now!


Click the arrow to watch the 1993 promotional film. Video source: Rick Tumlinson YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday is about a reusable rocket with landing legs.

No, it's not the SpaceX Falcon 9R, but a distant ancestor, the McDonnell Douglas DC-X, also known as the Delta Clipper.

The DC-X was a one-third scale prototype for a reusable single stage to orbit (SSTO) vertical launch vehicle. McDonnell Douglas was originally contracted by the Department of Defense to build DC-X, but after DOD cut funding it was transferred to NASA.

Click here for more information on DC-X at Encyclopedia Astronautica.

It was to be succeeded by the DC-Y, which would have attempted orbital flight, but once DC-X was cancelled the DC-Y program was never funded.

Below is film footage of the final test flight of the DC-XA, the NASA version of Delta Clipper, on July 7, 1996. A landing strut failed to extend due to a disconnected hydraulic line, causing the vehicle to fall over and leak liquid oxygen, causing a fire. NASA declined to fund repairs and further research, so the program was cancelled.


Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: CaughtOnTapeTV YouTube channel.

Gemini and Apollo astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad was the DC-X flight manager for McDonnell-Douglas.

The inherited DC-XA was in competition with the NASA X-33 VentureStar contracted with Lockheed Martin. Several authors, including this 2013 Innerspace.net article, suggest many in NASA management wanted to see DC-X fail because it originated with DOD, while wanting to prove that the NASA X-33 project was more viable. X-33 was cancelled in 2001 due to technical difficulties with flight instability and excess weight.

McDonnell Douglas merged in 1997 with the Boeing Company.

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