Secretive X-37B Space Plane Launches on New Mystery Mission
2011 03 07
By Mike Wall | Space.com
After being delayed a day by bad weather, the U.S. Air Force’s second X-37B robotic space plane blasted off from Florida this afternoon (March 5) on a mystery mission shrouded in secrecy.
The Air Force’s second X-37B space plane soars toward space atop an Atlas 5 rocket after launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 5, 2011.
CREDIT: United Launch Alliance
The unmanned X-37B mini-shuttle — known as Orbital Test Vehicle 2 (OTV-2) — took to the skies from Cape Canaveral at 5:46 p.m. EST (2246 GMT) today, tucked away in the nose cone atop a huge Atlas 5 rocket.
"Liftoff of the Atlas 5 rocket and the second experimental X-37B, America’s miniature military space shuttle," the Air Force Space Command wrote in a Twitter post as the Atlas 5 streaked into the Florida skies.
The space plane was originally scheduled to launch yesterday, but cloudy, windy conditions scrubbed two attempts. And a technical glitch caused the X-37B to miss a launch window earlier this afternoon; a faulty valve had to be replaced in a last-minute repair.
The X-37B’s mission is classified, but Air Force officials have said the vehicle will be used to test out new spacecraft technologies. Shortly after launch, the mission went into a scheduled media blackout, with no futher public updates.
Today’s launch marks the start of the X-37B program’s second space mission. The Air Force’s other X-37B plane, known as OTV-1, returned to Earth in December 2010 after a similarly mysterious seven-month maiden mission.
The X-37B spacecraft looks a bit like NASA’s space shuttles, only much smaller. The vehicle is about 29 feet long by 15 feet wide (8.8 by 4.5 meters), with a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed. By comparison, two entire X-37Bs could fit inside the payload bay of a space shuttle.
The space plane, built by Boeing for the U.S. military, can fly long, extended missions because of its solar array power system, which allows it to stay in orbit for up to nine months, Air Force officials have said.
What exactly the vehicle does while circling the Earth for so long is a mystery, since the craft’s payloads and missions are classified. Partly as a result of the secrecy, some concern has been raised — particularly by Russia and China — that the X-37B is a space weapon of some sort.
But the Air Force has repeatedly denied that charge, claiming that the X-37B’s chief task is testing out new hardware for future satellites — instruments like sensors and guidance, control and navigation systems. And that’s likely to be the case, experts say.
"It gives the Air Force the ability to test-fly some of this hardware," said Brian Weeden, a former Air Force orbital analyst who works as a technical adviser for the nonprofit Secure World Foundation.
Weeden suspects the X-37B is testing gear for the National Reconnaissance Office, the intelligence agency that builds and operates the U.S.’s spy satellites. That would explain all the secrecy, he said.
CREDIT: Karl Tate, SPACE.com
Second mission for the X-37B
The Air Force’s other X-37B, known as OTV-1, launched last April and returned in December after spending 224 days in space. While its mission was also classified, technology-testing was OTV-1’s primary job, too, Air Force officials have said.
And things presumably went well, experts say, or the Air Force wouldn’t be launching the craft’s twin a few short months later.
While the X-37B is likely trying out new hardware, the vehicle itself is experimental — hence the "X" designation — so these flights should also help the Air Force assess the space plane as well as its payload.
"Part of its mission is to test out reusable technologies and to see how quickly they can turn around these vehicles and launch them again," Weeden said.
Boeing’s Space and Intelligence Systems division builds the X-37B for the Air Force. Originally, NASA used the space plane as an experimental test bed until funding for the project ran out in 2004.
The vehicle then passed to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and was ultimately turned over to the Air Force in 2006.
Article from: space.com
China’s Secret Satellite Rendezvous ‘Suggestive of a Military Program’
Germany and US developing secret satellite
Australia and US sign secret satellite spy deal (Video)
Big Ears: ’Largest’ secret spy hub uncovered in Israel
The TR-3B secret Aurora Triangle UFO (Video)
NASA sells shuttle PCs without wiping secret data
Secretive X-37B Robot Space Plane Returns to Earth on Autopilot - What was the Mission?
What Kind Of Top-Secret Assassination Tech Does $58 Billion Buy?
Russian Scholar Warns Of ’Secret’ U.S. Climate Change Weapon
Latest News from our Front Page
US Silent on Psychologists Role in CIA’s Tortures: Doctors
Physicians for Human Rights had not received any response from the US Federal Commission to their call to investigate the role of health professionals in CIA’s torture program, Deputy Director of the organization told Sputnik.
December 19 (Sputnik) — US government has not responded to calls to prosecute doctors, who participated in CIA torture program, the Deputy Director of Communications for ...
Ziolebrities: Simon Cowell donates £100,000 to Israeli soldiers to please pregnant jewish girlfriend Lauren Silverman
Cowell, 54, is also planning a secret trip to Israel soon as he embraces the Jewish faith of Silverman, 36
Gala: Billionaire Haim Saban with Cowell
Simon Cowell has publicly donated nearly £100,000 in support of the Israeli army.
The X Factor boss pledged the cash to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces at a US fund-raiser in Beverly Hills.
The lavish gala ...
Former Chief Security Officer for NewsCorp: N. Koreans Not Behind Sony Hack, Interview Leak
Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor and former chief security officer for NewsCorp/Fox studios, says North Korea isn’t behind the Sony Hack.
Nigam gave several bullet points for why the hack was likely an inside job.
Attack code borrowed from a previous attack on Seoul, that’s why it’s in Korean. Private hackers typically borrow malicious code from other hackers.Nations state attacks follow ...
Sony Fires Back at Obama: Actually We Did Call the White House – Several Times
Sony fired back at Obama after the press conference saying they had several conversations with the Obama White House before and after the movie was canceled.
Via The Hollywood Reporter:
After President Obama criticized Sony for its decision to cancel The Interview's release after theater chains decided not to show the film, the studio has issued a statement elaborating on the move.
The Bankster International
Geopolitical analysis, the art of explaining power relationships through the prism of impersonal geography, can be a helpful tool for observers of the Great Game – but it also has its limitations. A case in point is the renewed US-Russia confrontation. Think tanks and policy insiders easily sell the narrative that from the dark days of the Cold War to ...
|More News » |