Two Entrpreneurial Space Companies Interested in X-34 Hypersonic Vehicles

Absent their vertical tails, the two X-34 aircraft were convoyed from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center to the north gate of Edwards Air Force Base via Rosamond Boulevard morning, and then overnight on Highway 58 to the Mojave Air and Spaceport. (Credit: NASA Dryden/Tony Landis)

Wired has more about the X-34s from Dave Huntsman, an engineer with NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, who spearheaded the effort to pull the hypersonic vehicles out of storage:

“The real idea didn’t come from me, or my Dryden buddies, or from Orbital Sciences who built them [the X-34s],” Huntsman wrote. “It came during a week in October 2009, simultaneously, at a workshop in Dayton, Ohio (where the Air Force Research Lab is based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base), from two different entrepreneurial space companies.”

With Obama’s February decision to privatize space exploration, the annual workshop — jointly hosted by NASA and the Air Force on behalf of America’s space companies — reflected what Huntsman called a “paradigm shift” for U.S. space exploration. This year, NASA and the Air Force let the entrepreneurs take the lead in discussions. In separate, closed-door meetings, reps from two different companies asked Huntsman about the X-34s’ status. “Most of us didn’t even know the X-34s still existed, since it had been years since program cancellation,” the engineer mused.

Propelled by industry’s interest, Huntsman placed a few calls and located the X-34s on the bombing range. Sensing the renewed interest, in January the Air Force voluntarily towed the X-34s off the range, pictured — a tedious, weeks-long undertaking complicated by mud and distance. To pay for inspections, Huntsman and a growing band of allies counted on a phenomenon unique to government budget cycles.

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