Delta Clipper

A brief look at the Delta Clipper rocket.

McDonnell Douglas
Country of origin:
United States of America
12 m (39 ft)
4.1 m (13 ft)
18,900 kgs (41,700 lbs)
Payload capacity (to low earth orbit):
4,500 kgs (9,900 lbs)
60 kN (13,000 lbf)

Delta Clipper

The Delta Clipper Experimental or DC-X was a reusable unmanned single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle developed by McDonnell Douglas in the early 1990s. The design was a radical shift in launch vehicle design and, as a result, the development team built a simple 1/3rd scale prototype for testing. The prototype Delta Clipper was never designed to reach orbital altitudes. The vehicle was simply developed as a proof of concept of vertical takeoff and landing. On August 18 1993, the Delta Clipper was successfully launched and landed for the first time.

Following an initial eight test missions, the Delta Clipper programme was taken over by NASA in 1995. The agency implemented a number of major upgrades to the vehicle and in 1996 the DC-XA took its maiden flight. The launch was a partial failure after the aeroshell caught fire during a slow landing. The DC-XA would complete two successful launches in June 1996. In late July following its fourth launch, landing strut 2 failed to extend causing the vehicle to tip over and the vehicle’s LOX tank to explode. The vehicle was destroyed leading to the termination of the DC-X programme.

In total, the Delta Clipper only flew 12 test missions (8 successful, 3 partial failures and 1 failure) before being retired. Following the end of the programme, many of the Delta Clipper engineers were later hired by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The engineers would draw inspiration from the Delta Clipper when developing the company’s New Shepard launch vehicle. Much like the Delta Clipper, the New Shepard is a reusable single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle.