Author Topic: Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Survives 1 Year in Orbit  (Read 1565 times)

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Quote
Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Survives 1 Year in Orbit
By Leonard David, SPACE.com’s Space Insider Columnist
Space.com | SPACE.com – 16 mins ago...

 
The U.S. Air Force's robotic X-37B space plane has celebrated a silent anniversary, surpassing an entire year in Earth orbit on a
mystery mission for American military. Meanwhile, a third X-37B space plane mission is being readied, and could even launch
later this year, SPACE.com has learned.
 
The X-37B space plane currently orbiting Earth is the second spacecraft of its kind built for the Air Force by Boeing’s Phantom
Works. Known as the Orbital Test Vehicle 2, or OTV-2, its classified mission is under the wing of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities
Office.
 
The robotic X-37B space plane is a reusable spacecraft that resembles a miniature space shuttle. The Air Force launched the
OTV-2 mission on March 5, 2011, with an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket lofting the space plane into orbit from the Cape Canaveral
Air Force Station in Florida.
 
"We are very pleased with the results of ongoing X-37B experiments," Air Force Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre of the Air Force Rapid
Capabilities Office told SPACE.com. "The X-37B program is setting the standard for a reusable space plane and, on this one-year
orbital milestone, has returned great value on the experimental investment," he told SPACE.com. [Photos: Inside the X-37B
Mission]
 
What the robotic space plane has been doing in orbit for so long remains a mystery, since Air Force officials have not
commented on the flight's details due to its classified nature. Outside experts, however, have suggested that the flight is testing
the limits of the X-37B space plane, or possibly serving as an orbital spy platform.
 
McIntyre dropped no hints, except to suggest that the next X-37B flight could launch later this year.
 
"Upon completion of all objectives, we look forward to bringing the mission to a safe, successful conclusion. The next program
phase, the third X-37B mission, has been tentatively planned for the fall of 2012," McIntyre said.
 
Each X-37B space plane is about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide. It has a payload bay about the size of
a pickup truck bed. It is outfitted with a deployable solar array power system. What’s inside that payload bay, and what
functions they serve, are classified.
 
Like NASA's now-retired space shuttle, the X-37B space planes are capable of returning experiments to Earth for inspection and
analysis, as well as re-flight of equipment.

One year in space
 
The maiden voyage of an X-37B space plane, the OTV-1 mission, launched in 2010 on a flight that lasted 225 days. That initial
mission spacecraft lifted off on April 22 and landed on Dec. 3, gliding onto a specially prepared runway at Vandenberg Air Force
Base in California.
 
So far, the OTV-2 mission has set an endurance record for the X-37B space plane — one that gets longer with each passing
day — and the spacecraft is in good health, Air Force officials said.
 
According to Air Force Maj. Tracy Bunko, a Pentagon spokesperson for the X-37B program, "the mission is still on track and the
vehicle is performing well."
 
Bunko said the flight of the vehicle is being extending as circumstances allow, in order to obtain maximum value out of the
mission. "We don’t know when we'll land, but we regularly evaluate that based on test objectives."
 
The X-37B space plane originated as a NASA spacecraft research project, but lack of funding led the agency to transfer the
program to the Defense Advanced Research Agency in 2004. The Air Force took control of the project in 2006, and has launched
two apparently successful missions so far.

Skywatchers track space plane
 
Ted Molczan, a Toronto, Canada-based satellite watcher and spacecraft analyst, offered his view of what the X-37B space plane
might be up to.
 
"I do not know OTV-2's mission, but its frequently repeating ground track may be a clue that it is gathering imagery
intelligence. Ground tracks that repeat at intervals of two, three or four days have long been favored for U.S. imagery
intelligence satellites, because they enable frequent monitoring of targets of interest," Molczan told SPACE.com.
 
In an Internet posting to his fellow amateur skywatchers, Molczan said the X-37B's altitude has changed little since launch, and
it has been at about 331 kilometers by 342 kilometers.
 
The OTV-2 spacecraft's ground track repeats after every 31 revolutions, in just under two days, Molczan added. The mission of
the first X-37B vehicle operated in several different orbits, most of which repeated every two to four days, he said.
 
Molczan and other skywatchers have also managed to catch video of the X-37B space plane in orbit as it sailed across the night
sky.
 
Whenever this second X-37B mission concludes, the craft is designed to make a "do-it-itself" guided entry and wheels-down
runway landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. An alternate desert landing site is neighboring Edwards Air Force
Base, Calif., mission officials have said.
http://news.yahoo.com/air-forces-mysterious-x-37b-space-plane-survives-
« Last Edit: March 06, 2012, 09:54:20 PM by BUncle »

Offline Unorthodox

Re: Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Survives 1 Year in Orbit
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2012, 09:50:20 PM »
. . . .

Let's see if it can land without problems this time...

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Re: Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Survives 1 Year in Orbit
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2012, 10:00:26 PM »
Well, that's a automatics problem, most likely.

The design has the virtue of addressing the biggest single flaw in the shuttle - that it was way too big and expensive for boosting a few people, and too small for some major cargo.  The shuttle program needed two or three different sizes of vehicle, but got a stuck with one horse designed by commitee, instead, that was wrong for at least half of what it was needed for.

I just wish this thing was still with NASA where it belongs - and 35 years ago, at that.

Offline Unorthodox

Re: Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Survives 1 Year in Orbit
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2012, 10:17:59 PM »
AFAIK, Boeing is still moving forward with the bigger version of it for manned space flight.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2012, 10:23:42 PM by Unorthodox »

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Re: Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Survives 1 Year in Orbit
« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2012, 10:27:18 PM »
Well, we're stuck with a government that hopes private enterprise will take up the slack -which infurates me, but may not be an entirely bad thing- so bully for Boeing.  NASA sucks, anyway, though that's not really NASA's fault...

Offline Unorthodox

Re: Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Survives 1 Year in Orbit
« Reply #5 on: March 06, 2012, 10:29:00 PM »
Keep an eye on SpaceX.  Barring some big problems, they'll be making noise relatively soon. 

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Re: Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Survives 1 Year in Orbit
« Reply #6 on: March 06, 2012, 11:35:35 PM »
Dang, you just answered my question before I could ask.  Anyone else impress you?

I love having a rocket scientist to ask...

Offline Unorthodox

Re: Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Survives 1 Year in Orbit
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2012, 12:11:13 AM »
Space X is the big mover in the private sector, they have a LOT of old liquid guys.  Their problem is with some red tape (surprise) in securing launch sites/dates. 

I believe their booster for the Falcon heavy just successfully tested. 


Edit:  Sorry, it was the Falcon 9 that just passed.  Their capsule is ready for a test launch, which will include docking with the space station. 

http://news.discovery.com/space/spacex-rocket-private-commerical-test-launch-120305.html

The Falcon heavy is badass, though.  We haven't seen the likes of it since the moon days.  Able to lift twice what the shuttle used to, and then some. 


Offline Unorthodox

Re: Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Survives 1 Year in Orbit
« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2012, 12:16:52 AM »
Oh, there's the pretty Draco engine.   I had read about it. 

http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20120201
« Last Edit: March 07, 2012, 12:22:03 AM by Unorthodox »

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Re: Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Survives 1 Year in Orbit
« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2012, 03:32:50 AM »
I'm gonna be a while looking through that site.  I'm pretty [homosexual] for this stuff.

 

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