National Aero-Space Plane:

A Technology Development and Demonstration Program To Build the X-30

NSIAD-88-122: Published: Apr 27, 1988. Publicly Released: Apr 27, 1988.

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GAO reviewed the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) Program, a joint Department of Defense (DOD) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) technology development and demonstration program to build and test the X-30 experimental flight vehicle.

GAO found that: (1) although NASP was a technologically challenging and high-risk program, it had potentially high payoffs; (2) the program schedule and milestones to design, fabricate, and flight test the X-30 by the end of 1994 were probably feasible but ambitious; (3) since design and integration setbacks could delay the program and increase costs, increased funding could reduce technological risk but might not speed development; (4) NASA has the major role in technology maturation and the lead responsibility for civilian applications, since its personnel and facilities have been integrated into the program; and (5) although industry made significant investments in the program, NASP contractors were concerned about cost-sharing with no payoff, sharing proprietary design concepts with the government and other contractors, and reporting current and projected proprietary NASP-related investments. GAO also found that: (1) although there was substantial progress in some systems areas, development of materials to build the engine and to demonstrate engine efficiencies and component performance was necessary; (2) although there were potential military, space, and commercial applications for the X-30, existing or planned aircraft could prove more cost-effective for some missions; and (3) foreign development of operational aerospace technologies challenges U.S. aeronautical leadership and preeminence, provides independent access to space, and reduces launching costs.

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