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Orbital blames NASA for X-34 failure
Posted: Fri, Mar 9, 2001, 11:22 AM ET (1622 GMT)
X-34 illustration The president of Orbital Sciences Corporation says that additional NASA oversight and the failure by the agency to provide a working engine doomed the X-34 program. In an article in the Huntsville Times J. R. Thompson said NASA began "intruding and interfering" with Orbital's work on the X-34 after the failure of the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander missions in late 1999. "They saddled us with redundant systems and review processes that had nothing to do with an unmanned test vehicle," Thompson told the Times, causing the cost of the program to grow. Thompson also blamed NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center for failing to provide a working version of the Fastrac engine that was to power the X-34 on its test flights. Art Stephenson, director of Marshall, rebutted Thompson's claims, saying that the additional oversight was needed to ensure the program's success, and that the original plan to give contractors like Orbital more freedom to run such programs was a "failed experiment." The real reason the X-34 was cancelled earlier this month, said Stephenson, was that SSTO technology was too advanced and "it would cost too much at this time to get it there." Thompson said Orbital would try to recoup its costs on the X-34 from NASA and look for another buyer for a similar vehicle, such as the Air Force.
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