one-tenth size scale model of the shuttle was conducted at White Sands. The model was 13 feet long, about two feet in diameter and had a wingspan of 13 feet. It weighed about 600 pounds.
The model was flown to 8,000 feet above ground by an Army CH-54 “Sky Crane” helicopter and dropped. Its glide to the ground was controlled from a NASA van in the drop zone.
The missile range’s Space Harbor is on an old lakebed at the site formerly known as Northrup Strip. Northrup Strip was originally built by the Northrop Corporation to serve as a launch and landing area for drones. It became Northrup Strip after a typographical error was repeated too many times to retract. The name was changed to the White Sands Space Harbor after the 1982 Columbia landing.
NASA selected the site as a shuttle pilot training area in 1976. In 1979 the two lakebed runways that were developed for training were lengthened to 35,000 feet to allow actual landings of returning shuttle orbiters. Pilot training continues at the site with over 90 percent of shuttle training runs taking place at White Sands.
In addition to shuttle activities, the White Sands lakebed has seen other testing. From 1993 to 1996, flight tests of McDonnell Douglas’ Delta Clipper vehicle were conducted there. The Delta Clipper was developed for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization to demonstrate single-stage-to-orbit rocket technology. The Delta Clipper was a single-stage, vertical-takeoff and vertical- landing vehicle.
The intent of the tests was to demonstrate that a rocket-powered reusable launch vehicle could be operated and maintained in a manner similar to aircraft. The Delta Clipper’s last flight was on July 31, 1996, when one of the landing legs failed to deploy. On setting down, the vehicle toppled over, exploded and burned.
Looking Toward the Future
Today, White Sands continues to play a role in the nation’s space activities and looks forward to supporting NASA’s Constellation Program with the Orion Abort Flight Test Program
Missile Range Facts
White Sands Missile Range is a multi-service test range whose main function is the support of missile development and test programs for the Army, Navy, Air Force, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and other government agencies and private industry.
The missile range is located in the Tularosa Basin of south-central New Mexico. At 2.2 million acres White Sands Missile Range is larger than Connecticut, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia combined and represents 17 percent of the land owned by the U.S. Army. The headquarters area is 20 miles east of Las Cruces, and 40 miles west of Alamogordo, New Mexico and 45 miles north of El Paso, Texas.