Air Force's Secretive Space Plane Nears Maiden Voyage
2009 10 26
By Leonard David | Space.com
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.
Now being readied for an orbital shakeout, the X-37B (shown here in an illustration) is an unpiloted military space plane. Launched from Florida, the vehicle will make an auto-touchdown in California. Credit: USAF
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.
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center image shows on-orbit functions for the reusable X-37 space plane, now under the wing of the U.S. Air Force. Credit: NASA/MSFC.
As a mini-space plane, this Boeing Phantom Works craft has been under development for years. Several agencies have been involved in the effort, NASA as well as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and various arms of the U.S. Air Force.
Over the last few months, I've been in touch with DARPA, Boeing, the Pentagon, the U.S. Air Force Space Command, as well as NASA itself. Either you get a "not in our portfolio" or are given a "go to" pass to another agency. Just a few weeks ago, I even commandeered a face-to-face "no comment" from a top Pentagon official for Air Force space programs about X-37B.
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.
Vandenberg serves as an emergency space shuttle landing strip, as a second backup after California's Edwards Air Force Base – which has also been noted as a landing spot for the X-37B.
Once in orbit, what such a vehicle might enable depends on the eye of the beholder. Intelligence gathering, kicking off small satellites, testing space gear are feasible duties, as is developing reusable space vehicle technologies.
Space test platform
Just last month, a U.S. Air Force fact sheet noted that the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), located in Washington, D.C. "is working on the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle to demonstrate a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the United States Air Force."
The mission of the RCO is to expedite development and fielding of select Department of Defense combat support and weapon systems by leveraging defense-wide technology development efforts and existing operational capabilities.
"The problem with it [X37-B] is whether you see it as a weapons platform," said Theresa Hitchens, former head of the Center for Defense Information's Space Security Program, now Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in Geneva, Switzerland.
"It then becomes, if I am not mistaken, a Global Strike platform. There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about Global Strike as a concept," Hitchens told SPACE.com.
The implications of the program as a possible space weapon are surely not lost on potential U.S. competitors, Hitchens said, who may well see anti-satellites (ASATs) as a leveler.
"Would this thing be vulnerable to ASATs? Yes, if it stayed on orbit any length of time," Hitchens added. "While I see value of such a platform as a pop-up reconnaissance or even communications platform, if weaponized it becomes yet another reason for other nations to consider building dangerous ASATs," she cautioned.
Another mission question is, to what extent the X-37B might play into the recent announcement that NASA is partnering with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to develop a technology roadmap for the commercial reusable launch vehicle, or RLV, industry.
All that said, and after years in the making, the X-37B is approaching its first globe-trotting, milestone making and historic flight – that much is known.
Article from: Space.com
Alfred Webre - Exopolitics, NASA Bombing of the Moon, Outer Space Treaty & E.T.
Kathleen McErlain - Too Many Secrets, Humanity's Fight to Expose The Secret Underground Worlds
Mike Bara - Dark Mission, The Occult NASA Moon Mission
Ted Twietmeyer - What NASA isn't Telling you about Mars
Stewart Swerdlow - Montauk Project & Mind-Control
Stewart Swerdlow - The Illuminati & The Alien Agenda
Joseph P Farrell - Cosmic War, Interplanetary Warfare & Mesopotamian Mythology
Andrew Collins - The Cygnus Mystery
Marko Rodin - Vortex Based Mathematics
Freeman - Obama, Cloning & The Coming Space War
Clues Emerge Over Mystery Satellite Soon After Launch
Boeing: Ultra secret "Bird of Prey"
Boeing's PHANTOM WORKS : Integrated Defense Systems
U.S. Air Force Aims to Launch Space Plane Next Year
NASA Moon Probe Launch Delayed for Military Payload
X-37 Flies At Mojave But Encounters Landing Problems
The X-37 Spaceplane to Fly At Mojave Spaceport
Video - Successful Satellite Kill
Video Show - NewSpace: The Orbital Industrial Revolution
Latest News from our Front Page
Prehistoric Underwater Wall Divides Scientists
2013 12 11
Two camps of scientists have faced off on the issue of the underwater structure known as Bimini Road off the coast of the Bahamas since it was first discovered in 1968.
One camp says it is a 12,000–19,000-year-old man-made structure—flouting the conventional understanding that advanced civilizations only emerged some 5,000 years ago.
The other camp says it is a natural formation.
Author, Researcher Lloyd Pye Dies
2013 12 10
We’re grieved by the sad news that writer and researcher Lloyd Anthony Pye passed away yesterday, December 9, 2013, after a battle with cancer. He was best known for his work with The Starchild Project.
Lloyd was a frequent welcome guest to Red Ice Radio, and we enjoyed the opportunity to speak with him about his work and his writing over ...
Mars May Have Harbored Life 3.6 Billion Years Ago
2013 12 10
Mudstones from Gale Crater, the original landing site of Curiosity, were formed in a lake which may have existed on the planet for hundreds of thousand of years according to scientists.The basin which is 150km wide with a mountain at its centre, could very well have sustained more than one lake approximately 3.6 billion years ago.
Research analysis shows that the ...
Geologists discover ’super volcano’ in Utah, possibly larger than Yellowstone
2013 12 10
Geologists at Brigham Young University have discovered what may be the world’s largest "super" volcano that erupted in Utah’s own backyard.
While there are a variety of volcanoes that blast away in different ways, super volcanic eruptions are the biggest that collapse into large calderas. Yellowstone Park is the remains of one of those calderas and it’s still very much alive ...
Rice grown near crippled Fukushima nuclear plant served to govt officials
2013 12 10
Rice from fields in the Fukushima prefecture, evacuated after the worst nuclear disaster in Japan, will be served to government officials for 9 days in a bid to demonstrate the safety of the country’s most-beloved crop, a local broadcaster reported.
The rice cultivated in several decontaminated fields in the Yamakiya District in Kawamata Town and Iitate Village, two areas designated as ...
|More News » |