X-20 Dyna-Soar Space Vehicle

X-20 Dyna-Soar Space Vehicle

Historical Snapshot

X-20 Dyna-Soar Space Vehicle

The Dyna-Soar design contract was awarded to Boeing on Nov. 9, 1959, and on June 19, 1962, the Dyna-Soar was designated the X-20.

The Dyna-Soar, designed to be a 35.5-foot (10.8-meter) piloted reusable space vehicle, had a sharply swept delta 20.4-foot-span (62-meter-span) wing and a graphite and zirconia composite nose cap and used three retractable struts for landing. Eleven manned flights were to be launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., starting in November 1964. Dyna-Soar’s first orbital flight was tentatively scheduled for early 1965.

The X-20 reached the mockup stage. $410 million had been spent on its development, and a cadre of astronauts was training to fly it. However, the U.S. government canceled the program on Dec. 10, 1963, because Dyna-Soar had no viable military mission and was too expensive for a research vehicle. Congress diverted the X-20 funding to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, which used McDonnell-built Gemini capsules. The partially completed X-20 prototype and the mockup were scrapped as well as initial tooling set up for a production line for 10 space planes.

In 1961, the U.S. Air Force had contracted with McDonnell Aircraft to build six experimental aerodynamic/elastic structures environment test vehicles that roughly resembled the Dyna-Soar. The scaled-down test vehicles were 5.7 feet (1.7 meters) long and used Douglas-built Thor or Thor-Delta boosters, which in turn used engines built by North American’s Rocketdyne division. The program was very successful and demonstrated that winged reentry vehicles could traverse the upper atmosphere.

    Technical Specifications

    First flight Projected, 1965
    Model number X-20
    Classification Space vehicle
    Span 20 feet
    Length 35 feet
    Max. payload 10,500 pounds
    Cruising speed 0.80 Mach