X-37B launch in April 2010

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docm

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A resuable space UAV she is, with all the implications that ensues. Yes, it has commercial possibilities but the USAF wouldn't be involved without the military mission possibility. What mission? Rapid recon for one, but a weaponized version is IMO not to be discounted. Interesting that Scaled used WhiteKnight to do some tests with it a couple years ago.

Images of the X-37B below...others in SDC article below

Air Force's Secretive Space Plane Nears Maiden Voyage

You would think that an unpiloted space plane built to rocket spaceward from Florida atop an Atlas booster, circle the planet for an extended time, then land on autopilot on a California runway would be big news. But for the U.S. Air Force X-37B project — seemingly, mum's the word.

There is an air of vagueness regarding next year's Atlas Evolved Expendable launch of the unpiloted, reusable military space plane. The X-37B will be cocooned within the Atlas rocket's launch shroud — a ride that's far from cheap.

While the launch range approval is still forthcoming, SPACE.com has learned that the U.S. Air Force has the X-37B manifested for an April 2010 liftoff.
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Tight-lipped factor

The tight-lipped factor surrounding the space plane, its mission, and who is in charge is curious. Such a hush-hush factor seems to mimic in pattern that mystery communications spacecraft lofted last month aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, simply called PAN. Its assignment and what agency owns it remains undisclosed.

But in a brief burst of light eking from the new era of government transparency, I did score this comment from NASA.

While the program is now under the U.S. Air Force, NASA is looking forward to receiving data from the advanced technology work.

"NASA has a long history of involvement with the X-37 program. We continue to monitor and share information on technology developments," said Gary Wentz, chief engineer Science and Missions Systems Office at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. "We are looking forward to a successful first flight and to receiving data from some advanced technologies of interest to us, such as thermal protection systems, guidance, navigation and control, and materials for autonomous re-entry and landing."

The vehicle itself is about 29 feet long with a roughly 15-foot wingspan and weighs in at over five tons at liftoff. Speeding down from space, the craft would likely make use of Runway 12/30 — 15,000 feet long by 200 feet wide — at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
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WhiteKnight and X-37B


Internals
 
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access

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Is that a real pic of the x-37 under whiteknight or is it photoshopped in?
 
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radarredux

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access":21u788i4 said:
Is that a real pic of the x-37 under whiteknight or is it photoshopped in?
The WK1 did carry it, but I don't know any specific details about his photograph.
 
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docm

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The X-37A's carrier aircraft for atmospheric drop tests is the Scaled Composites "White Knight" aircraft (carrier of the "SpaceShip One" X-Prize vehicle). Preparation of test flights began in early 2005, and included several captive flights of the ALTV under the "White Knight". On 7 April 2006, the X-37A finally made its first free glide flight. The flight itself was successful, but the vehicle ran off the runway after touchdown, damaging the nose landing gear. The second flight occurred on 18 August, and the third and final one on 26 September.
Lends a lot of cred to Virgin/Scaled's stated goal of launching other spacecraft with WK2 given it's about 3x larger than WK with a helluva space between the pylons. Sierra Nevada/SpaceDev is already talking about test-dropping the Dream Chaser spaceplane using WK2 if they get one of the CCDev grants.
 
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Eman_3

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A statement from the Secretary of the Air Force, states the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) program will focus on "risk reduction, experimentation, and operational concept development for reusable space vehicle technologies, in support of long term developmental space objectives." Please read the previous statement with care, because the USAF also describes the KH-11 type satellite as "Spacecraft engaged in practical applications and uses of space technology such as weather or communication". Uh huh, and simple little me just thought it was a military reconnasiance satellite.

OK, and to determine the actual missions planned for this vehicle, we need to define what USAF objectives would fit this vehicle. Optical reconnaissance is covered by the Keyhole family of satellites. There are also numerous military satellites sniffing out radar and radio parts of the spectrum. So I just don't see where the X-37 would fit into any plans for reconnaisance.

Considering the original plan was to launch the X-37 hidden inside the Space Shuttle, this indicates a desire for complete secrecy.

When you design a spacecraft to accomodate either manned or unmanned versions, a lot of flexibility is being built in. And of course, when you have people on board, you can change plans, make decisions, and have the ability to make repairs or changes if required. This reeks of the same logic that went along with MOL and other programs.

Sadly, despite many people's wishes to keep weapons out of space, the X-37 and other programs such as MOL and Polyus point the way towards the eventual militarization of space.
 
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CalliArcale

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Eman_3":ol6zvqa0 said:
Considering the original plan was to launch the X-37 hidden inside the Space Shuttle, this indicates a desire for complete secrecy.
Not really; the Shuttle was never intended as a long-term launcher for the X-37. That was just for an orbital test flight to validate this spacecraft in orbit and during reentry. Following the loss of Columbia, the DoD pretty much backed out of the Shuttle program, and of course the decision to terminate Shuttle following ISS completion meant there were zero slots left in the manifest for something like X-37.

It is possible that the DoD has been looking for something to replace Shuttle; they've had no opportunity to fly classified missions since ISS construction began. But if that's true, they really haven't been trying very hard. X-37 has been on life support for years; it's waaaaaay behind where it was supposed to be by now. My guess is that the super cool spy stuff has long since gone by the wayside, and now they're just interested in using it for research, so they don't have to depend on NASA for that stuff. They can do their own materials testing in low Earth orbit, and they can do their own studies of hypersonic flight.
 
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Geoduck2

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This vehicle brings up something that I've thought about for some time. Do we actually need people on board the Shuttle? This is planned to fly and return on its own. The Shuttle is already on computer control for most of the reentry and landing. It seems to me that the official line about decommissioning the Space Shuttle because it is too dangerous is more than a little disingenuous. I don't see why they couldn't be flown as unmanned heavy lift vehicles for as long as they can. Until the inherent design weaknesses in the Shuttle result in the loss of all of them. I favour getting every last dollar out of the airframes.

As far as this vehicle is concerned IMO it is a test bed. A proof of concept. There are likely other ships on the drawing board for actual military operations. Or maybe they're planning on using this with a smaller Canadarm to collect space junk. THAT I would like to see.
 
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Valcan

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I can understand why people dont want militaries in space but they have to face the facts. There are weapons in space. There will be more and larger weapons in space. This is reality. Space is the high ground he who controls the orbit can control the world period. Therefore all militaries and intellegent countries will seek weapns in space. Sorry but thats the way it is.

I dont see a problem with this and indeed i think its great that the WK ehicle is being used more. Now lets build bigger launch vehicles and try using DCX maybe :D .

Anyways looks good i can see everything from micro sats to astronouts on repair missions to just being able to boost cargo into orbit.

Wonder if you could mass produce them?
 
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bdewoody

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Could the X-37B lead to a enlarged manned version for LEO missions to the ISS or after the shuttle is retired are we going to depend on others to get crews to and from the ISS?
 
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mr_mark

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Nasa has no plans for a reusable space plane. They already got burned once by the space truck shuttle that never lived up to it's low cost promise and completely stopped NASA beyond LEO dead in it's tracks. I hope NASA never revisits this fiasco for the foreseeable future. I would though like to see a variant developed for private space and would encourage that. NASA's business is exploration not space trukin'. Let that be for companies like Spacex and Orbital Sciences.
 
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job1207

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There is an enlarged manned version of the X37B. It is the STS. I am not really sure what these guys are doing with their expensive toy. Seriously, what can be done with this vehicle that cannot be done cheaper with expendables.

As a system, a larger version of the X37B would have ASAT capabilities. But you could fire a laser or missile from the ground and do the same thing.

Boys with their toys.
 
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Astro_Robert

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The flying Twinkee has been around for 10 YEARS (Why it isn't painted yellow with little white spots on the bottom, I do not know, but it would make for good photoshop fun ;p). It has been passed from agency to agency and I think it even spent some quality time in storage while begging for funding.

My recollection is that White Knight was imdeed used for drop tests to evaluate the handling characteristics of the vehicle during a simulated re-entry, and that yes, Scaled Composites had been hoping to use these carrier aircraft for similar government research. I have not kept up with it and am not aware of any other programs that have used White Knight in this fashion.

The alternative to White Knight would be to use the ancient B52 'Mothership' at Edwards for drop tests, but it may have been retired. Certainly this B52 (I believe it is the same one that dropped Chuck Yeager on a certain day in history) is capable, although it is possible that White Knight may have higher altitude capability (usefull for many drop tests), I am just not that aware of all of those details.
 
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Valcan

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The B52 out there was retired last year or so i believe so.

As for firing a laser through the atmosphere its kinda like shooting a bullet throught the water.

The atmosphere will greatly weaken and make tracking harder.
 
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61J_MS3

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This is really the first chance to check out some of the things we've learned through the shuttle on an actual flight. The flight hardware and software, aerodynamics and even the heat sheild materials on the X-37B are a great deal different from what is on the shuttle and if one or all of them fail on a flight such as this it doesn't bring all of NASA to a grinding halt for three years. You fix it and fly it again.

The Pentagon would LOVE to have its own reusable space vehicle for a variety of uses manned and unmanned. NASA would like to see if some of these ideas really work, and private companies out there who would love to take LEO business off of NASA's hands would love to see if there is a useable shuttle follow on technology out there.

This flight isn't going to change the world all by itself, but to see that the future of spaceflight isn't going back to man in a can forever is a very welcome sight indeed.
 
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radarredux

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mr_mark":91sevwhf said:
Nasa has no plans for a reusable space plane. They already got burned once by the space truck shuttle that never lived up to it's low cost promise and completely stopped NASA beyond LEO dead in it's tracks. I hope NASA never revisits this fiasco for the foreseeable future. ... NASA's business is exploration not space trukin'.
I wonder if a reusable rocket (at least upper stage) that is designed to take just low amount of mass (just crew or just supplies or maybe small satellites) to and from LEO (i.e., no large cargo bay) and have limited cross-range capability (i.e., no large wings) combined with more modern technology would be more successful.

I think there is building consensus that NASA's role of building rockets (or at least anything below super-HLV) is a thing of the past. Whether it is private industry, DOD, or something else, I think getting humans & cargo to LEO will soon be out of NASA's hands.
 
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bdewoody

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FYI Chuck Yeager was taken to altitude in the Bell XS-1 by either a B-29 or a B-50 (a souped up B-29). The B-52 drop ship was used for the X-15 and later the lifting body experiments.

And in my previous post I never asked if NASA had plans to build another LEO reuseable taxi. I just wondered if the technology in the X-37B is the most promising for a future LEO manned vehicle. LEO may not be ground breaking but I forsee the need for such vehicles for a long while until someone figures out how to build the space elevator.
 
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MeteorWayne

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The Laser discussion now has it's own thread in Space Business and Technology.
 
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tadpoletriker

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Geoduck2":utxpjsvp said:
This vehicle brings up something that I've thought about for some time. Do we actually need people on board the Shuttle? This is planned to fly and return on its own. The Shuttle is already on computer control for most of the reentry and landing.
The shuttle already has totally autonomous capability using the Remote Controlled Orbiter (IFM cable) which was designed to return a shuttle if the ISS need to be used as a safe harbor, although I wonder if it can berth with the ISS.

JohnB
 
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davcbow

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I think its amazing that NASA, USAF, Boeing and Burt Rutan have teamed up.... Go for it Burt show them how to do it for less money!!!! :D
 
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Gravity_Ray

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X-37B

Very cool (except the fact that its a military project).

Can anybody give us more info on this ship (besides wiki)?

To me this will make a good un-powered drop ship from the ISS for a 7 man crew in case of an emergency, why not use it as such?

What can the military possibly use this for? They say just technology testing, but come on thats a lame reason as most testing of that sort can be done much cheaper with a computer. If you want live tests then they must have something in mind beside accademic interest.

Anybody got information?
 
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CalliArcale

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Re: X-37B

Gravity_Ray":1f8jolj2 said:
To me this will make a good un-powered drop ship from the ISS for a 7 man crew in case of an emergency, why not use it as such?
Well, it is conspicuously lacking in life-support systems, for one thing. ;-) The basic technology would certainly be applicable to a 7-man escape system. And then you get the CRV, which was cancelled for fairly boneheaded reasons. (Some politicians wanted to show how tough they were about controlling costs, basically.)

What can the military possibly use this for? They say just technology testing, but come on thats a lame reason as most testing of that sort can be done much cheaper with a computer. If you want live tests then they must have something in mind beside accademic interest.
Computer testing has significant limits. This is because the real world is not understood well enough to model it with enough fidelity to predict these things. Just look at the Space Shuttle. It's been the only hypersonic vehicle for years. (Okay, there have been a couple of scramjet flights, but those were very brief, and much slower.) Our entire body of research pertaining to hypersonic flight consists of Space Shuttle data. And they're still getting surprised. A recent mission featured a little poky bit sticking out of the belly of an Orbiter, so that NASA scientists could inspect the resulting thermal damage downstream of the poky bit. I think there was also some extra instrumentation inside the vehicle to measure temperatures. The results confirmed some of their models' predictions -- but contradicted others.

So even in the hypersonic flight regime, we don't know enough to abandon physical testing. Heck, we don't even know enough in the subsonic regime; auto manufacturers continue to rely on wind tunnel testing, rather than just computer models, and they're operating in a much easier (and better understood) regime.

As far as what exactly the X-37B will test . . . the military hasn't said. This is likely primarily just a flight test, which means they will mainly be testing the vehicle itself to make sure it performs up to specs. It would be the first entirely autonomous reusable spaceplane. (Buran flew unmanned, but it was not autonomous; it was piloted remotely.) So there's a significant amount of testing needed just to qualify the darn thing. But once that's done, what will it be used for?

Here we enter the realm of speculation. NASA had hoped to use it, or something very like it, as a platform for materials science experiments. The retirement of Shuttle will leave a major gap in the capability of returning test materials to the Earth. Once Shuttle is done, the only stuff that can come back will be stuff that can fit into a Soyuz descent module, along with three suited crewmembers and their equipment. One major area of research that isn't at all suited to computer modeling is materials science. In particular, what happens to various materials when they are exposed to space for an extended period of time? The results of such testing have been surprising, and it's not easy to replicate the space environment on Earth. There's some stuff you can do, like vacuum and thermal testing, but you can't do it long enough, and there's no way to effectively test the particle bombardment you get in space. Oh, you can do some testing by sticking samples in front of a particle beam, but these beams are narrow. In space, the whole thing will be bombarded, which is different.

So the USAF may be planning to do that sort of testing. X-37B will certainly be well suited to that role. But there are other things it could do. It could be used for intelligence gathering. While the value of such a vehicle is less today than it was, say, 30 years ago (since we don't need to return film capsules anymore), it would give you the ability to launch it for one mission, have it return, then swap out the instrumentation and launch it for a different mission, perhaps on a different orbit. This may prove of negligible benefit, since you'd end up paying for lots of extra launches, but it's certainly cheaper than launching multiple single-purpose spacecraft to cover all those mission profiles.

Another possibility is being able to launch satellites on more clandestine orbits. That was part of the function of the DOD Shuttle missions. But there's really not that much you can do to seriously conceal the orbit of a spy satellite (the best you can hope is to slightly delay working it out), and X-37B is not going to have adequate payload or delta-v capability to do this like the Shuttle did. Perhaps, if it works out well for the USAF, they may build a successor to X-37B which *would* have that capability, however.

Ultimately, my hunch is that X-37B, like most other x-planes, is about developing new capabilities, not about being a capability in its own right. Time will tell. ;)
 
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Gravity_Ray

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Re: X-37B

Thank you for the excellent reply.

I think my ISS comment showed my frustration with (aptly put - bone headed reasons) for cancelling the CRV. This machine looked very much like the CRV drawings. Although I am one of the people that has always maintained that its time to retire the shuttle, it isnt because I thought the shuttle was a poor design per se. Actually the shuttle TPS is quiet robust and if they just came up with a smaller shuttle frame that can sit a-top of a launching vehicle there was no reason to get rid of the shuttle flight system. The real issue was putting the TPS downstream from falling debris. This X37 frame looks wonderful for launch and landing of people and materials to LEO if its sitting on top of a launch vehicle (with life support) :)

Even with your excellent ideas and comments about the military I still distrust them, and I really do not want anything military in space. Thats just going down the wrong path IMHO.

What I would love to see is Bigelow buying this design and developing it so he can get to his future stations.

However, I do believe that we need to move on to outer space rather than LEO so I still hope the best for Ares.
 
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bdewoody

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Re: X-37B

As much as we may want to keep the military out of space they will end up being there. As soon as there are cargos transiting from planets or asteroids back home to earth there are going to be others trying to steal or destroy the cargo. Then you will be begging for the military to protect said cargo. Also throughout history and especially the history of aircraft military advancements have outpaced civil advancement by a bunch.
 
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Gravity_Ray

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Re: X-37B

I respectfully disagree with you woody. First off we can and should keep the military out of space. They have no business there. Second, the only reason that the military 'appears' to outpace civilian tech, is because nobody questions the military spending un-godly amounts of money (about 70% of our GDP), but hey if NASA gets 0.05% of the GDP all the pencil necks come out and cry foul. By the way that 0.05% doesnt just cover manned space flight, but all NASA budget including Earth monitoring and weather satellites, not to mention aeronautics as well.

Im not against our military (too many people in my circle of family and friends have been military people), just against the idea that the military solves problems. They dont, they kill problems. We the people solve problems. Military is the last step, not the first.

Also, there is so much raw materials in space for somebody to go to the trouble of stealing it, is silly. If they spend that much to get there, why steal it. Mine it yourself. For humans to fight over resources in our solar system is like two fleas fighting over which one owns the dogs’ butt they are sitting on.

Take the X37. Here is a ship that probably took more money than the CRV. The CRV gets cancelled, but hey paint some camo on it and presto bingo, its paid for. Huh? Maybe im being melodramatic, but I cant trust anybody that can kill me.
 
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