X-20 Dyna-Soar

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Missing image
Artist's conception of the X-20 during atmospheric escape

The X-20 Dyna-Soar (short for 'Dynamic Soaring') was a USAF program to develop an orbital spaceplane that could be used for a variety of military missions including reconnaissance, bombing, space rescue, satellite maintenance, and sabotage of enemy satellites. The program was initiated in 1957 and cancelled in 1963 with spacecraft construction only just beginning.



The development of the X-20 can be traced back to Eugen Sänger's Silbervogel bomber project of World War II. Following the war, many German scientists were taken to the United States by a CIA operation code-named "Paperclip". Among them was Dr Walter Dornberger who had headed Germany's wartime rocket program and who had detailed knowledge of Silbervogel. Working for Bell, he attempted to interest the USAF in a similar project, resulting in a number of design studies for such vehicles during the early 1950s ("Bomi", "Brass Bell" and "Robo"). During 1957, these three projects were drawn together as the USAF believed that a single vehicle could be designed to carry out all the bombing and reconnaissance tasks intended for these separate studies. In October, following a ARDC recommendation, NACA agreed to combine this with their own project for a spaceplane ("Hywards") that was intended as a follow-on to the X-15.

X-20 Dyna-Soar
X-20 Dyna-Soar

The program was to be conducted in three stages, a research vehicle (Dyna-Soar I), a reconnaissance vehicle (Dyna-Soar II), and a vehicle that would add strategic bombing capability (Dyna-Soar III). First glide tests for Dyna-Soar I were expected to be carried out in 1963, followed by powered flights the following year. A fully-operational weapons system was expected to be deployed by 1974.

In March 1958, nine U.S. aerospace companies tendered for the Dyna-Soar contract. Of these, the field was narrowed to proposals from Bell and Boeing. Even though Bell had the advantage of six years' worth of design studies, the contract for the spaceplane was awarded to Boeing in June 1959 (by which time their original design had changed markedly and now closely resembled what Bell had submitted). Meanwhile, the USAF was still vacillating over what system to use to boost the X-20 into orbit. Boeing had suggested an Atlas-Centaur combination, while the Air Force preferred the Titan-based approach suggested by failed competitor Martin. In late 1961, the Titan III was eventually finalised as the launch vehicle. The Dyna-Soar was to be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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Proposed Dyna-Soar launch vehicles

In April, 1960, seven astronauts were secretly chosen for the Dyna-Soar program. Neil Armstrong and Bill Dana left the program in the summer of 1962. On September 19, 1962, Albert Crews had been added to the Dyna-Soar program and the names of the six Dyna-Soar astronauts were announced to the public.

In 1963, the spaceplane was in an advanced stage of development. The design had been finalized, and construction of components for the prototype had begun. By then, however, the program had run into serious difficulties. Lacking a specific focus or mission, and with all U.S. human spaceflight activities having been assigned to NASA, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara cancelled the program on December 10, 1963.

The X-20 was to have been replaced by the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, a spin-off of the Gemini program, but this too was eventually cancelled. In time, data collected during the X-20 program would prove useful in designing the Space Shuttle.

Proposed Dyna-Soar I flights

  • Dyna-Soar 1 – January 1, 1966, no crew
  • Dyna-Soar 2 – April 1, 1966, no crew
  • Dyna-Soar 3 - July 1, 1966, 1 orbit, crew: James Wood
  • Dyna-Soar 4 - October 1, 1966, 1 orbit, crew: 1
  • Dyna-Soar 5 - March 1, 1967, 1 orbit, crew: 1
  • Dyna-Soar 6 - May 1, 1967, 1 orbit, crew: 1
  • Dyna-Soar 7 - July 1, 1967, 1 orbit, crew: 1
  • Dyna-Soar 8 - September 1, 1967, 1 orbit, crew: 1
  • Dyna-Soar 9 - December 1, 1967, multi-orbit, crew: 1
  • Dyna-Soar 10 - March 1, 1968, multi-orbit, crew: 1, last planned X-20 flight

Specifications (X-20)

Missing image
Dyna-Soar X-20 Diagram (USAF)

General characteristics

  • Crew: one pilot
  • Length: 35 ft 4 in (10.77 m)
  • Wingspan: 20 ft 10 in (6.34 m)
  • Height: 8 ft 6 in (2.59 m)
  • Wing area: 345 ft² (32 m²)
  • Empty weight: 10,395 lb (4,715 kg)
  • Max weight: 11,387 lb (5,165 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1x Martin Trans-stage rocket engine, 72,000 lbf (323 kN)


  • Maximum speed: 17,500 mph (28,165 km/h)
  • Range: earth orbit
  • Service ceiling: 530,000 ft (160 km)
  • Rate of climb: 100,000 ft/min (30,480 m/min)

Related content

Related development:

Similar aircraft:

Designation series: X-17 - X-18 - X-19 - X-20 - X-21 - X-22 - X-23

See also

External links

Template:US manned space programs

Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation


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