The Delta Clipper Experimental, or DC-X, was the world’s first totally reusable rocket. Unlike
expendable rockets or even the Space Shuttle, the DC-X returns to earth with the parts it started
with. It only needs to be refueled and checked out before it can fly again, just like an airplane.
It is similar to your car- after running errands, going to work & school, it needs to be refueled
with gasoline and it’s ready to be used again. Periodically, your car breaks down and needs
repair. DC-X is similar on this regard as well- it was designed to be repaired easily. This is
DC-X was an unmanned prototype suborbital vehicle built to demonstrate the feasibility of
Single Stage To Orbit (SSTO). Built as a 1/3rd scale prototype, the DC-X was never designed
to achieve orbital altitudes or velocity, but instead to demonstrate the concept of vertical take-off
and landing (VTOL). The VTOL concept was popular in science fiction films from the 1950s, but
not seen in real-world rocket designs. It would take off vertically like standard rockets, but then
land vertically with the nose up. The craft could be refueled where it landed, and take off again
from exactly the same position — a trait that allowed unprecedented turnaround times.
In the fall of 1991, the U.S. Government issued an RFP for a fully reusable rocket, designed
with maintainability in mind, be designed, built and tested. The McDonnell Douglas plant in
Huntington Beach, California was awarded the contract and a team of engineers began working
on the project. In August of 1993, history was made in the desert at White Sands Missile Range
as the DC-X took off from its launch pad and landed 300 feet away from it. A few weeks later,
the DC-X flew again, and several weeks after that, the DC-X flew yet again with each
successive flight being at a greater altitude and longer in duration. The DC-X flew a total of
twelve flights before a mishap destroyed the vehicle. This document describes the major
systems of the DC-X.
SYSTEMS OF THE DC-X
An overview of the major systems of
the DC-X reusable rocket.
A system is an arrangement of components, connected or related, that form an entire unit-
essentially a group of parts that perform a specific task. Using a car as an example again, it
moves down the road because of its powertrain system- the engine, transmission and axle. A
car’s direction of travel can be controlled because of its suspension system. The car can stop
due to its braking system, etc, etc. In each of these cases, the system is a collection of parts
specifically designed to perform a specific task. It’s critical that all of these systems work
A grocery store such as Albertson’s is another example of a system. The butcher, the meat
processing area, the meat storage area can be considered the “Meat” system. Likewise, the
produce section can be thought of as the “Produce” system, the bakery are the “Bakery:...