Douglas Isbell Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1753

)

May 1, 1996

Kristine Miller Aurora Flight Sciences Corp., Manassas, VA (Phone: 703/369-3633)

RELEASE: 96-85 ROBOTIC AIRCRAFT FOR EARTH SCIENCE SHIPPED FOR FIRST FLIGHT TEST A prototype robotic aircraft called Theseus, with potentially unique abilities to support NASA's Mission to Planet Earth enterprise, has been shipped to California to be prepared for its first test flight. Theseus was built for NASA under an innovative, $4.9 million fixed-price contract by Aurora Flight Sciences Corp., Fairmont, WV, and its partners at two West Virginia universities. The twin-engine, uncrewed vehicle has a 143foot wingspan, and is constructed largely from composite materials. Powered by two 80-horsepower, turbocharged piston engines that drive twin 9-foot diameter propellers, Theseus is designed to fly autonomously at high altitudes, with take off and landing under the active control of a ground-based pilot viewing a video screen. High-speed taxi testing of Theseus at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, is scheduled to begin in mid-May, with first flight by late June, according to Kevin Niewoehner, NASA Theseus project manager. NASA's Office of Mission to Planet Earth is currently developing a long-term strategy for the use of robotic research aircraft. If the demonstration flight of Theseus is successful, it would become a candidate for participation in this effort. Work on Theseus began formally in June 1994, less than two years ago. "Theseus represents a highly productive partnership between the government, the private sector, and

the academic community, focused on rapid prototyping, tightly controlled budgets and cost-sharing," Niewoehner said. -more-2With the potential ability to carry 700 pounds of science instruments to altitudes above 60,000 feet for durations of greater than 24 hours, Theseus is intended to support research in areas such as stratospheric ozone depletion and the atmospheric effects of future high-speed civil transport aircraft engines. Instruments carried aboard Theseus also would be able to validate satellitebased global environmental change measurements made by NASA's planned Earth Observing System. In addition to these scientific missions, Theseusderived vehicles are expected to have applications in commercial remote sensing and as telecommunications relay platforms, according to John Langford, president of Aurora Flight Sciences. "We can envision a small fleet of vehicles based on Theseus, with flexible payloads and flight times," Langford said. Aurora Flight Sciences' partners in the development of Theseus include West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, and Fairmont State College, Fairmont, WV. EDITOR'S NOTE: An image to accompany this release is available to media representatives by calling the Imaging Branch on 202/358-1900. Photo numbers are: Color 96-HC-49 B&W 96-H-49

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