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 Air Force's mystery spaceship: X-37 gears up for launch 
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Post Air Force's mystery spaceship: X-37 gears up for launch
The Air Force has announced that an experimental spaceship that looks and acts like a miniature, unmanned space shuttle – riding the back of a rocket into space then returning to Earth to land in California – will launch for the first time this month.

How long the mission will last, what it hopes to accomplish, and what, exactly, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is designed to do are all mysteries. :hmm

At a time when more countries – and particularly China – are exploring the military uses of space, the vehicle is the subject of speculation in the space community, with some wondering why the Pentagon rescued a program that NASA put on the chopping block due to a lack of funding in 2006.

But the program is also drawing attention for what it might accomplish. With space enthusiasts and entrepreneurs constantly looking for ways to drive down the enormous costs of getting people or payloads into orbit, perhaps research by the deep-pocketed Defense Department can start to find solutions.

If it is successful, the program would “be a good demonstrator for a commercial reusable orbital stage, so I'm hoping that something practical comes out of this program,” writes David Riseborough of the blog Earth Space Continuum.

X-37: What is it?
For its part, the Air Force has sought to quell conjecture that the X-37 might be some sort of orbiting Predator drone, dropping weapons from space. It says it needs the sort of craft NASA was developing: a way to bring science experiments and small payloads back to Earth safely without having to send humans into space to do it. :hmm

“What it offers that we have seldom had is the ability to bring back payloads and experiments to examine how well the experiments performed on-orbit," Gary Payton, the undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs, told Space.com.

This being the military, however, there are questions about whether that is the whole story. With the Air Force divulging few details about the craft or its mission, even defense experts are unsure about the program. Is this a protoype of what will become a fleet of Air Force spaceships or is it an end in itself?

"From my perspective it's a little puzzling as to whether this is the beginning of a program or the end of one," Peter Wilson, an analyst at the RAND Corp., a defense consultancy in Washington, told the Associated Press. :hmm

NASA taking note
The X-37 is roughly one-fourth the size of the space shuttle and though it will return to Earth, it is not completely reusable, like the shuttle is. All the elements of the shuttle are recovered and reused. The X-37 will take off from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop an expendable Atlas V rocket.

The date for the X-37 to make its automated landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast was not announced. It can stay on orbit for three-quarters of a year. :hmm

Air Force press materials suggested the mission is intended to put the vehicle through its paces but did not offer specifics. NASA will be watching to see what the Air Force has learned.

"We stay connected with the Air Force on the thermal protection system, [and] on the guidance, navigation and autonomous re-entry and landing," Daniel Dumbacher, the former X-37 project manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., told Space.com. "We stay in touch with them for data-sharing purposes, but that's the extent of it." :hmm

http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2010/0404/Air-Force-s-mystery-spaceship-X-37-gears-up-for-launch

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Mon Apr 05, 2010 10:00 am
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Post Re: Air Force's mystery spaceship: X-37 gears up for launch
Very interesting BB thanks for posting

Here is a picture or at least an artist's drawing of it

Image

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Mon Apr 05, 2010 10:45 am
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Post Re: Air Force's mystery spaceship: X-37 gears up for launch
Boeing X-37 Launches On Secretive Air Force Mission (VIDEO)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — An unmanned Air Force space plane resembling a small space shuttle has been launched on its maiden voyage into orbit, carried aloft aboard an Atlas 5 rocket Thursday evening, the service announced.

The rocket carrying the reusable X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle lifted off at 7:52 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, an Air Force statement said. It called the launch of the winged spacecraft a success, but released no immediate details of the mission's progress. :hmm

The space plane is to serve as a test platform for unspecified experiments and can stay in orbit for up to 270 days before gliding to an autonomous runway landing, the Air Force has said. The primary landing site is Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast northwest of Los Angeles.

The mission length wasn't disclosed by the Air Force. :hmm

The service has made public only a general description of the mission objectives: testing of guidance, navigation, control, thermal protection and autonomous operation in orbit, re-entry and landing.

However, the ultimate purpose of the X-37B and details about the craft have longed remained a mystery, though experts said the spacecraft was intended to speed up development of combat-support systems and weapons systems.

"This launch helps ensure that our warfighters will be provided the capabilities they need in the future," said Col. Andre Lovett, a launch official and vice commander of the Air Force's 45th Space Wing, in Thursday's statement.

The launch culminated the project's long and expensive journey from NASA to the Pentagon's research and development arm and then on to the secretive Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the X-37 program, but the current total hasn't been released.

While the massive space shuttles have been likened to cargo-hauling trucks, the X-37B is more like a sports car, with the equivalent trunk capacity.

Built by Boeing Co.'s Phantom Works, the 11,000-pound craft is 9 1/2 feet tall and just over 29 feet long, with a wingspan of less than 15 feet. It has two angled tail fins rather than a single vertical stabilizer.

Unlike the shuttle, it was designed for launch like a satellite, housed in a fairing atop the expendable Atlas V rocket, and capable of deploying solar panels to provide electrical power in orbit.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/23/boeing-x-37-launches-on-s_n_549159.html

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Fri Apr 23, 2010 6:44 am
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Post Re: Air Force's mystery spaceship: X-37 gears up for launch
:scared

WAR AMONG THE STARS

Image

Air Force Launches Secretive Space Plane; ‘We Don’t Know When It’s Coming Back’

The Air Force launched a secretive space plane into orbit last night from Cape Canaveral, Florida. And they’re not sure when it’s returning to Earth.

Perched atop an Atlas V rocket, the Air Force’s unmanned and reusable X-37B made its first flight after a decade in development shrouded in mystery; most of the mission goals remain unknown to the public.

Image

Image

The Air Force has fended off statements calling the X-37B a space weapon, or a space-based drone to be used for spying or delivering weapons from orbit. In a conference call with reporters, deputy undersecretary for the Air Force for space programs Gary Payton, space programs did acknowledge much of the current mission is classified. But perhaps the most intriguing answer came when he was asked by a reporter wanting to cover the landing as to when the X-37B would be making its way back to the planet.

“In all honesty, we don’t know when it’s coming back for sure,” Payton said.

Payton went on to say that the timing depends on how the experiments and testing progress during the flight. Though he declined to elaborate on the details. The vague answer did little to quell questions about the ultimate purpose of the X-37B test program.



Artist rendition of X-37 in orbit
At only 29 feet long, the X-37B is roughly one fourth the size of the space shuttle. It’s onboard batteries and solar arrays (pictured at left from it’s NASA days) can keep it operating for up to nine months according to the Air Force. It is similar to the shuttle with payload doors exposing a cargo area, and uses a similar reentry procedure before gliding to a runway. In the case of the X-37B, the vehicle will autonomously return to earth and land itself using an onboard autopilot. The primary landing spot is Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

In his conference call, Gary Payton told reporters the primary goal is to see if the system is a viable option for the Air Force.

“Top priority is an inexpensive turn around,” Payton said. “Do we have to do a lot of servicing? If that’s the case, it makes this kind of vehicle less attractive to us in the future.”

Payton described an ideal turn around to be similar to a large airplane.

“I would like to see this X-37 handled much more like an airplane, maybe an SR-71″ he said referring to the legendary spy plane. “Handled more like that than what we see with other space launch mechanisms, space launch vehicles.”

The military has been looking into the idea of an orbital space platform for decades. And the X-37 program itself has been around for quite a while. Built by Boeing’s Phantom Works division in the mid 1990s, it was first developed for NASA as a reusable space vehicle that could be carried to orbit either inside the space shuttle or using a booster rocket. The unmanned X-37 would then orbit for a period of time before launching or retrieving a payload and return to earth.


X-37B being prepared for launch
The program was transferred to the Department of Defense in 2004. Since that time the X-37 has become a classified program, raising questions as to whether or not it would become the first operational military space plane. During the 1960s, the Air Force and Boeing conducted research on the X-20 Dyna-Soar space plane. After initial development, much of it with then test pilot Neil Armstrong, the Dyna-Soar was canceled in 1963.

A vehicle such as the X-37 could be a valuable platform for intelligence gathering with the advantage of a satellite’s point of view, but the flexibility of an aircraft that can be launched relatively quickly and maneuvered in orbit much easier than a traditional satellite.

With the lack of specificity expected from a classified program, and without a translator, the Air Force described the X-37B program as “a flexible space test platform to conduct various experiments and allow satellite sensors, subsystems, components and associated technology to be efficiently transported to and from the space environment. This service directly supports the Defense Department’s technology risk-reduction efforts for new satellite systems. By providing an ‘on-orbit laboratory’ test environment, it will prove new technology and components before those technologies are committed to operational satellite programs.”

Once the current mission is over, the miniature unmanned space shuttle will be inspected to determine if it is a truly reusable vehicle. A new generation of protective tiles, similar to those that plagued early shuttle flights will be examined as well as the autonomous flight control systems that pilot the space craft. The other key component to the program, the overall time needed to prepare the X-37 for another flight, will also be closely watched. The goal is to have it flight ready again in 15 days.

A second X-37B is in the works and the Air Force said it could be ready for a 2011 launch.

[Photos: Air Force, Boeing]
http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/04 ... e-vehicle/

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Fri Apr 23, 2010 7:29 am
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Post Re: Air Force's mystery spaceship: X-37 gears up for launch
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/science/space/23secret.html
Surveillance Suspected as Spacecraft’s Main Role

By WILLIAM J. BROAD

A team of amateur sky watchers has pierced the veil of secrecy surrounding the debut flight of the nation’s first robotic spaceplane, finding clues that suggest the military craft is engaged in the development of spy satellites rather than space weapons, which some experts have suspected but the Pentagon strongly denies. :heart :clap

Last month, the unmanned successor to the space shuttle blasted off from Florida on its debut mission but attracted little public notice because no one knew where it was going or what it was doing. The spaceship, known as the X-37B, was shrouded in operational secrecy, even as civilian specialists reported that it might go on mysterious errands for as long as nine months before zooming back to earth and touching down on a California runway.

In interviews and statements, Pentagon leaders strongly denied that the winged plane had anything to do with space weapons, even while conceding that its ultimate goal was to aid terrestrial war fighters with a variety of ancillary missions.

The secretive effort seeks “no offensive capabilities,” Gary E. Payton, under secretary of the Air Force for space programs, emphasized on Friday. “The program supports technology risk reduction, experimentation and operational concept development.”

The secretive flight, civilian specialists said in recent weeks, probably centers at least partly on testing powerful sensors for a new generation of spy satellites.

Now, the amateur sky watchers have succeeded in tracking the stealthy object for the first time and uncovering clues that could back up the surveillance theory. Ted Molczan, a team member in Toronto, said the military spacecraft was passing over the same region on the ground once every four days, a pattern he called “a common feature of U.S. imaging reconnaissance satellites.”

In six sightings, the team has found that the craft orbits as far north as 40 degrees latitude, just below New York City. In theory, on a clear night, an observer in the suburbs might see the X-37B as a bright star moving across the southern sky.

“This looks very, very good,” Mr. Molczan said of the identification. “We got it.”

In moving from as far as 40 degrees north latitude to 40 degrees south latitude, the military spacecraft passes over many global trouble spots, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea. :mrgreen:

Mr. Molczan said team members in Canada and South Africa made independent observations of the X-37B on Thursday and, as it turned out, caught an earlier glimpse of the orbiting spaceship late last month from the United States. Weeks of sky surveys paid off when the team members Kevin Fetter and Greg Roberts managed to observe the craft from Brockville, Ontario, and Cape Town.

Mr. Molczan said the X-37B was orbiting about 255 miles up — standard for a space shuttle — and circling the planet once every 90 minutes or so.

A fair amount is known publicly about the features of the X-37B because it began life 11 years ago as a project of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which operates the nation’s space shuttles. The Air Force took over the program in 2006, during the Bush administration, and hung a cloak of secrecy over its budget and missions.

The X-37B has a wingspan of just over 14 feet and is 29 feet long. It looks something like a space shuttle, although about a quarter of the length. The craft’s payload bay is the size of a pickup truck bed, suggesting that it can not only expose experiments to the void of outer space but also deploy and retrieve small satellites. The X-37B can stay aloft for as long as nine months because it deploys solar panels for power, unlike the space shuttle.

Brian Weedon, a former Air Force officer now with the Secure World Foundation, a private group based in Superior, Colo., said the duration of the X-37B’s initial flight would probably depend on “how well it performs in orbit.”

The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office leads the X-37B program for what it calls the “development and fielding of select Defense Department combat support and weapons systems.”

Mr. Payton, a former astronaut and senior NASA official, has acknowledged that the spacecraft is ultimately meant to give the United States new advantages on terrestrial battlefields, but denies that it represents any kind of space weaponization.

On April 20, two days before the mission’s start, he told reporters that the spacecraft, if successful, would “push us in the vector of being able to react to war-fighter needs more quickly.” And, while offering no specifics, he added that its response to an “urgent war-fighter need” might even pre-empt the launching of other missions on expendable rockets.

But he emphasized the spacecraft’s advantages as an orbiting laboratory, saying it could expose new technology to space for a long time and then “bring it back” for inspection.

Mission control for the X-37B, Mr. Payton said, is located at the Air Force Space Command’s Third Space Experimentation Squadron, based at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. He added that the Air Force was building another of the winged spaceships and hopes to launch it next year.

The current mission began on April 22, when an Atlas 5 rocket at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida fired the 5.5-ton spacecraft into orbit.

Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer who tracks rocket launchings and space activity, said the secrecy surrounding the X-37B even extended to the whereabouts of the rocket’s upper stage, which was sent into an unknown orbit around the sun. In one of his regular Internet postings, he said that appeared to be the first time the United States had put a space vehicle into a solar orbit that is “officially secret.”

David C. Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group in Cambridge, Mass., said many aerospace experts questioned whether the mission benefits of the X-37B outweighed its costs and argued that expendable rockets could achieve similar results.

“Sure it’s nice to have,” he said. “But is it really worth the expense?”

Mr. Weedon of the Secure World Foundation argued that the X-37B could prove valuable for quick reconnaissance missions. He said ground crews might rapidly reconfigure its payload — either optical or radar — and have it shot into space on short notice for battlefield surveillance, letting the sensors zoom in on specific conflicts beyond the reach of the nation’s fleet of regular spy satellites.

But he questioned the current mission’s secrecy.

“I don’t think this has anything to do with weapons,” Mr. Weedon said. “But because of the classification, and the refusal to talk, the door opens to all that. So, from a U.S. perspective, that’s counterproductive.”

He also questioned whether the Pentagon’s secrecy about the spacecraft’s orbit had any practical consequences other than keeping the public in the dark.

“If a bunch of amateurs can find it,” Mr. Weedon said, “so can our adversaries.” :clap

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Wed May 26, 2010 12:12 pm
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Post Re: Air Force's mystery spaceship: X-37 gears up for launch
Air Force video reveals X-37B space plane landing
By Mike Wall
updated 6/17/2012 11:02:04 AM ET

The U.S. Air Force's robotic X-37B space plane came back to Earth Saturday after 15 months in orbit on a mystery mission, and its much-anticipated landing was caught on video.

The X-37B spacecraft touched down at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base at 5:48 a.m. local time Saturday (8:48 a.m. EDT; 1248 GMT). Several hours later, Vandenberg officials released a short video of the event (seen above).

The first part of the 80-second video was apparently shot in infrared light. It shows the X-37B space plane cruising in for an automated landing, its belly and nose glowing a bright orange-yellow, presumably from the heat generated during re-entry to Earth's atmosphere.

The video switches over to visible wavelengths about 35 seconds in, after the space plane has touched down, and shuts off shortly after the X-37B rolls to a stop on the runway. [Photos: Air Force's 2nd Secret X-37B Mission]

The X-37B, also known as Orbital Test Vehicle-2 (OTV-2), launched on March 5, 2011, from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Its flight was the second-ever mission for the X-37B program; the first was flown by OTV-2's sister ship, OTV-1.

OTV-1 blasted off in April 2010 and stayed aloft for 225 days, well below the supposed 270-day orbital limit for the space plane. But OTV-2 smashed that limit, zipping around our planet for 469 days before finally coming down today.

Just what OTV-2 was doing up there for so long remains a mystery. Details of the vehicle's mission are classified, as are its payloads. The secrecy has spurred speculation — notably from China — that the X-37B may be a space weapon of some sort, but Air Force officials have long insisted that the spacecraft is simply testing out technologies for future satellites. :roll

snip

Read more here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/47849012/ns/technology_and_science-space/

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Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:31 am
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