All About Space - - Nasa At 60 -

27 The X-15 was a rocket-pow­ered aero­plane that, by fly­ing in­cred­i­bly high and fast, qual­i­fies as the first space­plane, and its pi­lots as as­tro­nauts. It was op­er­ated by the US Air Force and NASA be­tween 1959 and 1968.

Its liq­uid-fu­elled rocket en­gines were sim­i­lar to those used in space launch­ers, but the X-15 flew hor­i­zon­tally rather than ver­ti­cally. It was car­ried aloft un­der the wing of a B52 bomber, fir­ing its en­gines when at the re­quired al­ti­tude. Be­cause it was de­signed to fly at the top of the at­mos­phere, where the air is very thin, it had a thruster-based con­trol sys­tem rather than the usual con­trol sur­faces, which would be in­ef­fec­tive at such a high al­ti­tude.

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