What Did the DC-X Teach Us?
Every now and then go away, take a little relaxation, because when you come back to your work, your judgment will be surer...Go some distance away, because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and lack of harmony or proportion is more readily seen.
Leonardo Da Vinci
What did we really learn from the DC-X? It's been twenty years since the first flight, and this is a good opportunity to follow Leonardo's advice, and take a look back. It is instructive to recall the attitudes, ideas and plans of the time, and with our new perspective decide how relevant they may be today, what went right, what went wrong. In that spirit this website was created. It helps to fill in a piece of the picture about the plan to succeed the DC-X that is not widely known.
The DC-X first flew in 1993. The flight was spectacular enough to warrant prime-time
coverage on national television news networks in an age of “routine” space shuttle launches. Space enthusiasts were excited again. Could something new be on the horizon, something that could fling open the doors to the final frontier?
Now, twenty years later, the DC-X seems to lie buried in the aerospace archeological record, since no trace of it appears in the DNA of the winners of the launch vehicle natural selection process—the expendable launch vehicles of the post-shuttle era. But there are glimmers on the horizon and it is the hope of the authors that this anniversary might help re-ignite the excitement and optimism of two decades ago in a new generation of engineers who want to build the world’s first spaceline.
What's On This Site?
This website contributes to the anniversary by presenting a concept for the DC-X successor that is not well-known, but is based on technical lessons learned from the DC-X. It is written from the perspective of some of the technical participants and managers on the DC-X program, and shows what, in their opinion, might have been, and could still be, the quickest way to fully reusable, single-stage launch operations.
This site does not present a detailed launch vehicle design. Instead it describes a new concept for one based on fundamental technologies that the DC-X program revealed. When these technologies are properly combined in a single launcher, they create a low-risk candidate for a successful commercial space launch system.
Use the links below or in the Main Menu to progress chronologically through the story of the "High-alpha" concept, one of the possible sequels to the DC-X that was part of McDonnell Douglas' X-33 proposal.