Monday, June 22, 2015

History - Civil Jump Planes dropping more than Skydivers

Twenty years ago NASA teamed up with a Drop Zone near Mojave, California for their X-38 project. The Jump Aircraft that was utilized was a C206. Scaled Composites Inc. built the X-38 test airframes. A very interesting article about the project is found below. Author is unknown. Photos by Jim Ross.

A 4-foot-long model of NASA's X-38, an experimental crew return vehicle, glides to earth after being dropped from a Cessna aircraft in late 1995. The model was used to test the ram-air parafoil landing system, which could allow for accurate and controlled landings of an emergency Crew Return Vehicle spacecraft returning to Earth. The X-38 Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) research project is designed to develop the technology for a prototype emergency crew return vehicle, or lifeboat, for the International Space Station. 

The project is also intended to develop a crew return vehicle design that could be modified for other uses, such as a joint U.S. and international human spacecraft that could be launched on the French Ariane-5 Booster. The X-38 project is using available technology and off-the-shelf equipment to significantly decrease development costs. Original estimates to develop a capsule-type crew return vehicle were estimated at more than $2 billion. X-38 project officials have estimated that development costs for the X-38 concept will be approximately one quarter of the original estimate. 

Off-the-shelf technology is not necessarily "old" technology. Many of the technologies being used in the X-38 project have never before been applied to a human-flight spacecraft. For example, the X-38 flight computer is commercial equipment currently used in aircraft and the flight software operating system is a commercial system already in use in many aerospace applications. The video equipment for the X-38 is existing equipment, some of which has already flown on the space shuttle for previous NASA experiments. The X-38's primary navigational equipment, the Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning System, is a unit already in use on Navy fighters. The X-38 electromechanical actuators come from previous joint NASA, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Navy research and development projects. 

Finally, an existing special coating developed by NASA will be used on the X-38 thermal tiles to make them more durable than those used on the space shuttles. The X-38 itself was an unpiloted lifting body designed at 80 percent of the size of a projected emergency crew return vehicle for the International Space Station, although two later versions were planned at 100 percent of the CRV size. The X-38 and the actual CRV are patterned after a lifting-body shape first employed in the Air Force-NASA X-24 lifting-body project in the early to mid-1970s. The current vehicle design is base lined with life support supplies for about nine hours of orbital free flight from the space station. It's landing will be fully automated with backup systems which allow the crew to control orientation in orbit, select a deorbit site, and steer the parafoil, if necessary. The X-38 vehicles (designated V131, V132, and V-131R) are 28.5 feet long, 14.5 feet wide, and weigh approximately 16,000 pounds on average. The vehicles have a nitrogen-gas-operated attitude control system and a bank of batteries for internal power. The actual CRV to be flown in space was expected to be 30 feet long. 

The X-38 project is a joint effort between the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas (JSC), Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia (LaRC) and Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California (DFRC) with the program office located at JSC. A contract was awarded to Scaled Composites, Inc., Mojave, California, for construction of the X-38 test airframes. The first vehicle was delivered to the JSC in September 1996. The vehicle was fitted with avionics, computer systems and other hardware at Johnson. A second vehicle was delivered to JSC in December 1996. 

Flight research with the X-38 at Dryden began with an unpiloted captive-carry flight in which the vehicle remained attached to its future launch vehicle, Dryden's B-52 008. There were four captive flights in 1997 and three in 1998, plus the first drop test on March 12, 1998, using the parachutes and parafoil. Further captive and drop tests occurred in 1999. In March 2000 Vehicle 132 completed its third and final free flight in the highest, fastest, and longest X-38 flight to date. It was released at an altitude of 39,000 feet and flew freely for 45 seconds, reaching a speed of over 500 miles per hour before deploying its parachutes for a landing on Rogers Dry Lakebed. In the drop tests, the X-38 vehicles have been autonomous after airlaunch from the B-52. After they deploy the parafoil, they have remained autonomous, but there is also a manual mode with controls from the ground.

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