By Chris Bucholtz
While most X-planes are intended to explore new territory, the X-38 is designed instead to help space pioneers escape from an emergency in orbit. The primary task for the X-38 is to explore the idea of an International Space Station "lifeboat." In the first years of the ISS' use, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft will be used as a crew return vehicle, but the seven-passenger craft designed around the X-38 will be needed as crew size increases. In the event of trouble the crew would board the craft and use a jettisonable de-orbit engine module to line up for descent. The craft would glide from orbit much like the Space Shuttle and use a steerable parafoil parachute for its final descent.
The X-38 takes advantage of past research for as much as 80 percent of the craft's design. Lifting body aerodynamics pioneered in the late 1960s and 1970s with the Air Force's X-24A give the craft a familiar shape. The project also aims at developing a design that could be modified for other uses, such as a manned spacecraft that could be launched on expendable rockets or from the Space Shuttle.
NASA conducted the second and final flight of the X-38 on Feb. 5, 1999. The vehicle was released from a B-52 at approximately 22,000 feet and flew freely for about 10 seconds before the parafoils were deployed to guide it to its landing point. After this test, conducted from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards ,CA, the vehicle will be redesigned to look like an 80 percent scale model of the eventual spacecraft.
The kit by Newman R&D/Muroc Models is simplicity personified. The X-38-which bears a passing resemblance to the rescue spacecraft flown by David Janssen in the '60s turkey "Stranded in Space"-is cast in a single piece of resin. Bits of styrene strip, a small length of brass wire, and resin landing skids and a parachute pack round out the parts. A small but comprehensive set of decals-produced with an ALPS printer, no less-provide all the markings needed, including the logo of Scaled Composites, the manufacturer of the X-38.
My example is reasonably well-cast for such a large chunk of resin. Three small pin marks appear on the very top of the fuselage, and the trailing edge of the lifting body has some flash that needs to be cleaned up. The rear end of the ship also has a large sink mark and some flash; luckily, this area is a flat plane and can easily be cleaned up with little risk to the surrounding detail. The surface detail is recessed and, although it appears wavy in a few places, is subtle enough to capture the restrained panel detail of the real spacecraft. The slots in the bottom of the fuselage for the secondary landing gear struts are slightly canted, to allow for a greater strut length than the width of the fuselage. This creates the optical illusion that the model is out of square, tail-to-nose. Don't worry - it's not.
Construction is extremely simple. Once the fuselage is painted in the black-and-white paint scheme, the modeler must cut three struts from the metal rod, then insert them into the holes already cast into the model's landing gear wells. The skids also have marks indicating where they fit onto the struts. Secondary struts for the main gear must be fashioned from strip styrene. Finally, the parachute pack goes into a recess in the back end of the model.
This very simple model would make an ideal first resin kit and will provide real space modelers with an intriguing "large scale" addition to their collections. For an aircraft that made its first free flight a year ago, Newman R&D/Muroc Models' kit is an impressive and timely effort.
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