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ASV-3 ASSET Lifting Body

The ASSET program was the first phase of Spacecraft Technology and Advanced Re-entry Tests (START). This was a USAF research program designed to develop a reusable, maneuverable, re-entry vehicle capable of being flown from earth orbit to a precise landing point on earth. Since wings provide no lift in space and would be damaged by the forces of re-entry, engineers developed wingless vehicles known as lifting bodies, which derive aerodynamic lift from their shape alone. These aircraft would re-enter the earth's atmosphere at a flat gliding angle and could be maneuvered to a landing at a conventional airfield. This eliminated the massive maritime recovery forces needed for the re-entry capsules used in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs (which had very little maneuverability).

The ASSET vehicles were built by McDonnell Aircraft Corp. Six were launched on Thor boosters during 1963-1965. Once the ASSET vehicle reached an altitude of about 195,000 feet (59,280 meters), it separated from its booster and began re-entry while radioing data to scientists on earth. Measurements of temperature, pressure, heat transfer rates and other scientific data were collected. The program also provided test data on materials and structural design concepts and various theories relating to space flight.

The ASSET vehicle on display at the museum was the only one recovered. It was transferred to the museum in 1968. 

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Related Fact Sheets
Mercury Spacecraft
Gemini Spacecraft
Apollo 15 Command Module
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