Released: Sep 3, 1997
SEAL BEACH, Calif. (AFNS) -- The first-of-its-kind, a Space Maneuver Vehicle, rolled out Sept.3 from Boeing's facility here. The space vehicle was built under a partnership between the Air Force Phillips Laboratory in New Mexico and the Ohio-based Air Force Wright Laboratory.
The 90-percent-scale unpowered vehicle will be used in the first of a three-phase ground and flight test demonstration program to show the maneuver vehicle's orbital mission capabilities.
In October, the vehicle, an integral part of the Air Force's emerging military spaceplane reusable system architecture, will begin testing at Holloman Air Force Base, N. M.
The flight tests include dropping the 22-foot-long, 2,500-pound, graphite-epoxy and aluminum vehicle from a UH-60 helicopter at 10,000 feet.
During the initial portion of the its free fall, the maneuver vehicle will be stabilized by a parachute. After it is released from the parachute, the vehicle will accelerate and perform a controlled glide. This glide will simulate the final approach and landing phases of such a vehicle returning from orbit.
The vehicle, which will land under its own power, will use an integrated Navstar Global Positioning Satellite and inertial guidance system to touch down on a hard surface runway.
"The craft will replicate what would be expected during the final stages of its re-entry from a mission," said Capt. John Anttonen, chief of the Military Spaceplane Program Office here. "The vehicle will be expected to follow a preset flight path and land under its own control."
The Air Force's Wright Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, is working closely as Phillips Laboratory's executing agent for this effort. The structural test article program there is proving out and failure-testing composite building materials needed for the spaceplane development.
A full-scale vehicle center fuselage and wing carry-through box is being built and will be tested to evaluate the composite materials.
"We are not only looking at the development of the technology and understanding the entry profiles and the avionics of this system, we are also looking at low-cost manufacturing techniques for this type of vehicle," Anttonen said.
"One of the many benefits which could be realized by the maneuver vehicles is the rapid deployment of tactical satellites for military missions," according to Anttonen. "The vehicle's reusability would allow it to be used over and over again with a variety of payloads tailored to specific needs. A number of these space maneuver vehicles could be placed in orbit using a reusable military spaceplane."
Lt. Col. Craig McPherson, Phillips' director of Military Spaceplane Technology Systems, explained how the Space Maneuver Vehicle Program ties into another larger program called the Military Spaceplane Program.
"The military spaceplane allows us to routinely fly suborbital or orbital missions, while the space maneuver vehicle lets us move all over the sky," McPherson said.
The colonel said the spaceplane is being developed in a multiphase approach. Phase I, called Technology Leveraging, is under way with both the Space Maneuver Vehicle Program and the recently awarded Integrated Technology Testbed contract.
Subsequent phases are currently being planned, but are not funded. They involve initial capability technology demonstrations leading to expanded operations. If the technology program is successful, a full operational capability would eventually be fielded.
In theory, this versatile maneuver vehicle could deliver payloads to orbit from a military spaceplane, boost payloads to higher orbits from lower orbits, or be used as a rapid-reaction reconnaissance system.
"Where the big spaceplane that boosts the maneuver vehicle to orbit might only have a few hours or days of dwell-time in orbit, the space maneuver vehicle can stay up for weeks, months, or perhaps, up to a year, " said Lt. Col. Jess Sponable, the Military Spaceplane technical director.