Lockheed Martin's Venturestar:

It's not your grandparents rocketship -- by Andrea Vicars

"We've been to orbit. We've been to the moon. In the new century, we'll be getting down to business inspace as creative entrepreneurs join the next generation of brave explorers. On the way are new products, new services, new companies, new jobs. New possibilities that no one's even dreamed of yet. Today, we call space the final frontier. Tomorrow, led by NASA's Reusable Launch Vehicle, we'll call it something new. Open for business."

These are the words on Lockheed Martin's Venturestar homepage (http://www.lockheed.com/new/venturestar.html). The Venturestar, or X-33, was selected in July as the winning design of a competition to replace the current space shuttle. The Venturestar is a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle that does not require and external fuel tank or solid rocket boosters. Besides having no throwaway parts, the new shuttle design features more efficient engines, lighter fuel tanks, and more durable thermal insulation.

Althougth the wingless wonder may not look like any "conventional" spacecraft, Vice President Al Gore called it a "high-tech marvel." The vehicle will undergo a series of testing phases including the construction of the half-scale prototype which has already been completed. The second test phase involves suborbital test flights beginning in March 1999. In the year 2000, the full-scale operational vehicle will be constructed if it is economically feasible. Finally, the shuttle will transport satellites and then eventually humans, allowing for the phase out of the current shuttle which was unveiled in 1972.