Fiber sensors key for next-generation reusable space launcher
The Lockheed Martin (Palmdale, CA) X-33 demonstration vehicle for the next-generation reusable space launcher will make extensive use of fiberoptic sensors for monitoring its
cryogenic liquid-hydrogen and oxygen tanks. The 53% scale vehicle must demonstrate technologies capable of achieving single-stage-to-orbit, so lightweight structures are paramount. Fiberoptic strain, temperature, and pressure sensors will monitor tank performance and
condition. The sensors are being developed by the company in conjunction with NASA Langley Research Center (Hampton, VA). Fiberoptic devices also may be used to carry vehicle flight-control signals, again saving weight over electronic controls.
The first flight of X-33, whose development contract was awarded at the beginning of July, is scheduled for early 1999. The program?s goal is a fully reusable space booster that is more reliable and less costly than the current Space Shuttle. The booster design uses a
wedge-shaped lifting body that allows for a vertical takeoff, as with current launchers, but is able to perform runway landings similar to the Shuttle.