The “Horizontal Lander” HL-20 was developed by NASA’s Langley Research Center during the 1980s and 1990s. It was one of several designs considered by NASA to supplement the space shuttle with adependable, crewed transportation at minimal cost.
The HL-20, which is significantly smaller and lighter than the space shuttle orbiters, was to be launched into low-Earth orbit on an expendable rocket and then use its own propulsion system to boost itself to the International Space Station. After making the exchange of crew or payload, the HL-20 would return to Earth, landing on a runway near the launch site.
As part of the extensive research and testing of the HL-20, students from North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T University, with a grant from NASA Langley, constructed this full-size, engineering research model in 1990 in order to conduct human factors testing to order to validate the design the usability of the vehicle.
During testing, Langley volunteers participated in many human factors studies, including:
- Crew seating arrangement
- Ease of entrance and exit
- Visibility during docking and landing operations
- Launch abort scenarios
Volunteers were even placed in flight suits and helmets for simulated launch and landing.
Due to decreased funding, the HL-20 program was cancelled, and the years of research and testing were shelved until Sierra Nevada Corporation continued it in 2005.