NASA has disclosed that it will stop funding the X-33 and X-34 programs, essentially putting an end to five years of research into the development of reusable launch vehicles.
The current X-33 program will come to completion when the cooperative agreement between NASA and Lockheed Martin expires on March 31st, 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 of Dulles, VA.
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.
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. In a statement, NASA said that the projected cost of completing the X-34 program at an acceptable level of risk had risen ‘significantly above the planned budget and that the benefits to be derived from continuing the X-34 program did not justify the cost’.