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Watch the full X-38 flight
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Friday, 31 March, 2000, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Flying success for space 'lifeboat'
X-38
The space lifeboat was dropped from a B-52
Nasa's prototype "flying lifeboat" has flown through its most stringent test so far, though not without a bumpy landing.

The vehicle is being developed to provide an escape route for future astronauts living on the International Space Station

"The vehicle flew just about as we expected," said project manager Bob Baron. "We purposely put in some pitches and rolls and all that looked very, very good."
Nasa
A giant parafoil brakes the craft's descent
Less good was the failure to deploy one of the skids on which the craft lands.

40,000 feet

The unmanned prototype was launched from under the right wing of a B-52, 11,900 metres (39,000 feet) above Nasa's Dryden Flight Research Center. It fell for more than 40 seconds until a parachute deployed.

About 10 minutes later, the wedge-shaped X-38 vehicle landed safely in a cloud of dust on a dry lake bed.

Unlike aeroplanes and space shuttles, the X-38 has skids rather than landing gear. A left skid failed to deploy during Thursday's test, but it did not cause any problems during the landing, Mr Baron said.

"We need to find out exactly why it didn't deploy," he said. "But even with one of the gears not down, the vehicle didn't roll or flip over. It gives you some feeling that the system is robust."

$85m project

The testing programme for the wingless and engineless X-38 will cost $85m. Its findings will be used to build the actual Crew Return Vehicle, which will carry up to seven people.

Officials hope to test a full-scale model launched from a space shuttle in April 2002 and make it available on the space station in 2005 or 2006.

For the first years of the space station, astronauts will have to rely on a three-man Soyuz capsule for emergency escapes.

Nasa
The X-38 is examined after touch down

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07 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
World's biggest parafoil flies
04 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Space station at 'moment of truth'
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