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Reusable Launch Vehicle Program

Access to Space was a study responding to a Congressional request in the NASA FY1993 Appropriations Act. "The goals of the study were to identify the best vehicles and transportation architectures to make major reductions in the cost of space transportation (at least 50 per cent), while at the same time increasing safety for flight crews for the existing shuttle option by at least an order magnitude. In addition, vehicle reliability was to exceed 0.98 percent, and, as important, the robustness, pad time, turnaround time, and other aspects of operability were to be vastly improved.

The study examined three major optional architectures: (1) retain and upgrade the Space Shuttle and expendable launch vehicles, (2) develop new vehicles using conventional technologies and transition from current vehicles beginning in 2005, and (3) develop new reusable vehicles using advanced technologies, and transition from current vehicles beginning in 2008."

Like shuttle, the advanced technology option operations scenario was built on allocated timelines and an assumed set of launch site facilities (using existing facilities to the greatest extent possible). The approach again was to support the vehicle design and not design for support. In the case of affordable access to space, the question is, will a fifty percent reduction in recurring costs provide a competitive transportation system. Even more important, will the access to space concepts stimulate market growth in domestic launch opportunities.

The Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) was an outgrowth of Option 3 from the Access to Space Studies. In the observations and conclusions section of the report NASA states "... an architecture featuring a new advanced technology single-stage-to-orbit pure-rocket launch vehicle was recommended as the most attractive option. It had the greatest potential for reducing annual operations costs as well as life-cycle costs, it would develop important new technologies with dual-use in industry (such as composite vehicle structures for cars and airplanes), it would place the U.S. in an extremely advantageous position with respect to international competition, and would leapfrog the U.S. into a next-generation launch capability."

The X-33 and X-34 programs were part of an effort that began in 1994-known as the Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology/Demonstrator Program (Reusable Launch Vehicle Program)-to pave the way to full-scale, commercially-developed, reusable launch vehicles reaching orbit in one stage.

In embarking on the Reusable Launch Vehicle Program, NASA sought to significantly reduce the cost of developing, producing and operating launch vehicles. NASA's goal was to reduce payload launch costs from $10,000 per pound on the space shuttle to $1,000 per pound.

It planned to do so, in part, by finding ''new ways of doing business'' such as using innovative design methods, streamlined acquisition procedures, and creating industry-led partnerships with cost sharing to manage the development of advanced technology demonstration vehicles. The vehicles were seen as the ''stepping stones'' in what NASA described as an incremental flight demonstration program. The strategy was to force technologies from the laboratory into the operating environment.

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