CAPE CANAVERAL -- An Atlas V rocket is poised for launch on its Cape Canaveral pad today, but the forecast for the planned launch Tuesday of a military mini-shuttle is not favorable.
The United Launch Alliance rocket and an Air Force X-37B spacecraft are scheduled to blast off at 1:03 p.m. Tuesday at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 41.
The launch window extends through 6:03 p.m.
However, a cold front is expected to sweep into central Florida Tuesday, bringing with it a high probability of cloudy conditions, rain showers and isolated thunderstorms.
Air Force meteorologists say there is a 70 percent chance conditions would prohibit a launch Tuesday.
The weather forecast for Wednesday is the same. The front is expected to stall over central Florida Wednesday before moving off to the northeast.
Mounted atop a mobile launch platform, the Atlas V and its payload moved out of its 30-story assembly building today and made the 1,800-foot trip to the launch pad along rail tracks. Two specially designed “trackmobiles” transported the rocket to the pad.
The U.S. Air Force's robotic X-37B space plane has quietly passed the five-month mark on its latest secret mission in Earth orbit.
The unmanned X-37B spacecraft launched into space atop an Atlas 5 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 11, 2012, kicking off a mission whose objectives and payloads are classified.
The winged craft is known as Orbital Test Vehicle-3 (OTV-3), since it is conducting the third mission of the Air Force's X-37B program.
The first air drop of the X-37 experimental spaceship from the White Knight carrier craft was called off on April 6, 2006 due to high-altitude winds over Edwards Air Force Base in California. An April 7 attempt ended with the robotic space plane rolling o
This 2003 photo shows a Boeing technician making adjustments to composite panels on the then NASA X-37 Approach and Landing Test Vehicle. Atmospheric flight testing aided in the design of the orbital version of the U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane.
Quelle: ULA, Boeing
Secret military space plane moving to KSC
A secretive military space plane will base its operations at Kennedy Space Center.
The Air Force’s X-37B “Orbital Test Vehicle” will take over the former shuttle hangar called Orbiter Processing Facility-1, according to The Boeing Co., the vehicle’s manufacturer.
Already launched from Florida, the vehicles, which resemble small, unmanned space shuttles, could also land on the former shuttle runway at KSC.
One of the space planes is still in orbit after launching from the Cape in December 2012.
Two previous landings and processing of the X-37B so far have been performed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The Air Force had previously confirmed it was studying a consolidation of operations at KSC or the Cape.
Neither the Air Force nor Boeing commented today beyond confirming plans to expand Florida operations, and did not disclose the move’s job or financial impacts.
Local and state officials welcomed the news.
“The commercialization of OPF-1 through Space Florida's project funding was a critical factor in attracting Boeing to Florida," said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, in a statement. " We are pleased to see our partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation and local communities through spaceport projects contributing significantly to the continued growth of Florida’s aerospace economy."
Quelle: Florida Today
Boeing Announces Expansion at Kennedy Space Center
Facility upgrades will support X-37B program
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., Jan. 3, 2014 – Boeing [NYSE:BA] will expand its presence in Florida by adding technology, engineering and support jobs at the Kennedy Space Center. Financial and employment details are not being disclosed.
Investments will be made to convert the former space shuttle facility, OPF-1, to a facility that would enable the U.S. Air Force to efficiently land, recover, refurbish, and re-launch the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), a 29-foot-long, reusable unmanned spacecraft.
According to key stakeholders in the project:
“Boeing’s choice to further expand its presence on Florida’s Space Coast validates the state’s position as a leader in aerospace. The company’s investment and the jobs created add to this extensive sector,” said Gray Swoope, president & CEO of Enterprise Florida. “We are proud to have Boeing as a corporate leader in the state and we look forward to our Florida workforce being a part of the company’s future success.”
"This project has been a great example of state and local agencies working together to create an optimal toolbox of capabilities for the customer," said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, the state of Florida's spaceport authority and aerospace development agency. "The commercialization of OPF-1 through Space Florida's project funding was a critical factor in attracting Boeing to Florida. We are pleased to see our partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation and local communities through spaceport projects contributing significantly to the continued growth of Florida’s aerospace economy."
“This is a great opportunity to utilize Brevard County’s talented workforce in support of our nation’s next-generation space vehicle research platform,” said Mary Bolin Lewis, chairman, Brevard County Board of County Commissioners.
“We have seen the impact and visionary thinking Boeing and the Air Force bring to the Space Coast and we are pleased to work with NASA, Space Florida, Enterprise Florida and other key state and community partners to further diversify our space industry,” said Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. “We have long touted how attractive our unique infrastructure and workforce are to both the private sector and the military, and we are excited that this project capitalizes on both of those strengths while laying the groundwork for future growth.”
Boeing to use former space shuttle hangar for secret space plane
Space shuttle Atlantis backs out of Orbiter Processing Facility-1 (OPF-1) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2011. The building will now be used to service military space planes. (cS)
A former NASA space shuttle hangar will serve as the new home and servicing facility for a fleet of secretive military space planes.
The Boeing Company announced on Friday (Jan. 3) it will begin converting Orbiter Processing Facility-1 (OPF-1) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to support the U.S. Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). Built by Boeing's Phantom Works, the winged X-37B resembles in some ways a smaller version of NASA's shuttle with a 15-foot (4.5 m.) wingspan.
The move to use OPF-1 will "enable the U.S. Air Force to efficiently land, recover, refurbish, and re-launch" the 29-foot-long (8.8 m.), reusable unmanned spacecraft, Boeing officials said in a statement.
No other details were released, other than Boeing noting the project will expand its presence in Florida by "adding technology, engineering and support jobs at the Kennedy Space Center."
One of three similar hangars to previously house NASA's orbiters, OPF-1 has been vacant since June 2012, when the space agency's final shuttle to fly into space, Atlantis, departed the building. Built in the late 1970s, OPF-1 has a 29,000-square-foot (2,700 sq.m.) high bay and stands 95 feet (29 m.) tall.
The hangar is the second NASA OPF to be commercially leased under an agreement with Space Florida, the state's spaceport authority and aerospace development agency. In October 2011, Boeing also took over use of OPF-3 to support its CST-100 spacecraft, a crewed capsule being developed to potentially fly NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
That facility, now referred to as the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, or C3PF, is nearing the end of its conversion to begin manufacturing and testing the five-seat, gumdrop-shaped spacecraft.
"This project has been a great example of state and local agencies working together to create an optimal toolbox of capabilities for the customer," Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, said in a statement released by Boeing. "The commercialization of OPF-1 through Space Florida's project funding was a critical factor in attracting Boeing to Florida."
Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) is undergoing renovation to be used as the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, as seen in December 2012. (NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)
The U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office has launched three X-37B missions for unknown purposes since April 2010. The third flight, which marked the first reuse of the two-vehicle fleet's first spacecraft, is still orbiting the Earth more than a year after its launch atop an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
What the space plane has done during its time in space remains largely a mystery. Though speculation has ranged from testing new sensor technologies to reconnaissance, the details of the X-37B's mission, including its payloads and objectives, have been kept classified.
The previous two OTV missions landed and were serviced for flight at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The U.S. Air Force has hinted that OTV-3 may touch down in Florida, perhaps landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Space Florida is currently in negotiations with NASA to take over use of the 3-mile (4.8 km) runway.
Although currently dedicated to flying secret missions for the military, the X-37 space plane could be evolved into a vehicle capable of flying supplies, or even astronauts, to the space station, Boeing officials have earlier said. First proposed in 2011, the X-37C would be a scaled up version of the X-37B, which has a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck's bed.
The U.S. Air Force OTV program was built upon work first done by NASA and then the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The X-37B craft was originally intended to be deployed from the shuttle's cargo bay, but following the loss of the orbiter Columbia in 2003, it moved to Delta and then Atlas rockets.
Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Passes 400 Days in Orbit
The U.S. Air Force's unmanned X-37B space plane has now circled Earth for more than 400 days on a hush-hush mission that is creeping closer and closer to the vehicle's orbital longevity record.
The X-37B spacecraft launched on Dec. 11, 2012, meaning that it has been aloft for 413 days as of Tuesday (Jan. 28) on the third mission for the program, which is known as OTV-3 (short for Orbital Test Vehicle-3). The endurance record is 469 days, set during OTV-2, which blasted off in 2011.
OTV-2 and OTV-3 have utilized different X-37B vehicle (the Air Force currently has two vehicles). The space plane currently zipping around Earth also flew the program's inaugural OTV-1 mission, which stayed in space for 225 days after launching in 2010
X-37B vor Start 2012
US Air Force's Secretive X-37B Space Plane Nears Day 500 in Orbit
The U.S. Air Force's mysterious robotic X-37B space plane is sailing toward the 500-day mark in Earth orbit on a secret military mission.
The X-37B space plane presently in orbit is carrying out the Orbital Test Vehicle 3 (OTV-3) mission, a classified spaceflight that marks the third long-duration flight for the unmanned Air Force spaceflight program. The miniature space shuttle launched on Dec. 11, 2012.
The record-breaking X-37B mission now underway uses the first of the Air Force's two robotic space plane vehicles. This same space plane flew the first-ever X-37B mission (the 225-day OTV-1 flight in 2010), and a second vehicle flew the longer OTV-2 mission in 2011, chalking up 469 days in orbit.
X-37B space planes launch into orbit atop an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket from a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The first two space-plane missions flew back to Earth on autopilot, each time touching down on a tarmac at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Earlier this year, the X-37B supplier Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems announced plans to consolidate space-plane operations by using NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a landing site for the space plane.
Intelligence-gathering space plane
An X-37B space plane is about one-fourth the size of a former NASA space shuttle and uses a deployable solar array for power. It weighs 11,000 lbs. (4,990 kilograms) and has a small payload bay about the size of the bed of a pickup truck.
Each X-37B spacecraft measures about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and nearly 15 feet (4.5 m) wide, and has a payload bay that measures 7 feet (2.1 m) long and 4 feet (1.2 m) wide. The space plane can operate in orbits that fly between 110 miles (177 kilometers) and 500 miles (805 km) above the Earth.
The secret missions for X-37B space planes are carried out under the auspices of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, and mission control for OTV flights are handled by the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.
This unit is billed as the Air Force Space Command's premier organization for space-based demonstrations, pathfinders and experiment testing, gathering information on objects high above Earth and carrying out other intelligence-gathering duties.
And that may be a signal as to what the robotic craft is doing — both looking down at Earth and upward.
X-37B and U.S. military space
Just how the trio of X-37B clandestine missions might fit into the military's strategic space plans is speculative. However, recent testimony before Congress of top U.S. military space brass underscores the overall fervor for "space control." [Space Weapons: Most Destructive Military Concepts]
Space control requires knowledge derived from satellite situational awareness to warn and assess threats that pose a risk to U.S. and coalition space operations, Lt. Gen. John Raymond, commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space, said before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces earlier this month.
"Space control may also include threat avoidance, safeguarding of our on-orbit assets and the ability to mitigate electromagnetic interference," Raymond testified.
Decision to declassify
Some analysts believe that the space-plane missions could be flying sensor gear useful for a recently declassified activity, the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP).
GSSAP will deliver two satellites for a single launch that are headed for near geosynchronous orbit (GEO). From that vantage point, they will survey objects in the GEO belt to track both known objects and debris and to monitor potential threats that may be aimed at this critically important region.
"Our decision to declassify this program was simple: We need to monitor what happens 22,000 miles (35,000 km) above the Earth, and we want to make sure that everyone knows we can do so," testified Douglas Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy for the U.S. Department of Defense.
GSSAP satellites will communicate information through the worldwide Air Force Satellite Control Network ground stations, and then to Schriever Air Force Base, where the 50th Space Wing satellite operators will oversee day-to-day command and control operations.
A strategic crossroad
The commander of Air Force Space Command, Gen. William Shelton, also testified at the same April 3 hearing, telling lawmakers he believed "we are at a strategic crossroad in space."
Shelton, who first unveiled the once-classified GSSAP in February, said the two spacecraft expected to launch in 2014 will collect space situational awareness data, thus allowing for more accurate tracking and characterization of human-made orbiting objects in a near-geosynchronous orbit. [See amateur video of the X-37B space plane from March 4]
"Data from GSSAP will contribute to timely and accurate orbital predictions, enhance our knowledge of the geosynchronous environment and further enable spaceflight safety to include satellite collision avoidance," Shelton said.
More things to come
As an experimental spacecraft, the X-37B is a precursor of things to come, said Marshall Kaplan, a space consultant and principal at Launchspace Inc., a training group for space professionals based in Bethesda, Md.
"It gives a certain amount of flexibility that we haven't had before," given that the craft flies and lands without a crew, is able to be reused and can haul specialized payloads for certain types of surveillance and other types of missions related to national security, Kaplan said.
But given that the craft is lofted by an Atlas 5 rocket — an expensive boost — "what we really need now is a cheap booster … which we don't have," Kaplan told Space.com. "It's the missing element."
Kaplan said to keep an eye on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program. DARPA seeks to lower satellite launch costs by developing a cheap, reusable first stage that would fly to hypersonic speeds at a suborbital altitude, he said.
"In the big picture of things, these two programs [X-37B and XS-1] could come together at some point in the future and be operational," Kaplan said.
Whatever its utility, how an on-going X-37B program will play out in China is on the mind of Everett Dolman, professor of military strategy at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
One early indication is that China has purportedly pushed forward on its own "Shenlong" space plane planning.
"As far as the Shenlong is concerned, I am pretty much in agreement at this point that it is part of a broader 'fast follower' program similar to the Soviet Union's adaptive approach in the Cold War," Dolman told Space.com.
Just as the former Soviet Union felt a need to develop its own space shuttle — the remotely piloted Buran that only flew once — Dolman said "the Chinese probably are concerned about a sudden leap in technology or tactics that would give a decisive, if temporary, edge to the U.S. should it be unveiled at a critical moment."
"By keeping a close watch and matching what appears to be a high-priority technological capability, the fast follower spends less on research and development and can, hopefully, close the technology gap quickly," Dolman said.
It is a second-best strategy for long-term competition in business, Dolman said, adding that he's not sure it is even that for potential combat scenarios. "But the People's Republic of China obviously believes the U.S. is committed to the X-37B and doesn't want to be left tying its shoes in the gate when the starting-pistol sounds," he concluded.
US Air Force's Secretive X-37B Space Plane Passes 600 Days in Orbit
The U.S. Air Force's mysterious unmanned space plane has winged beyond 600 days in orbit on a classified military mission that seems to have no end.
The X-37B space plane is carrying out the Orbital Test Vehicle-3 (OTV-3) mission, a long-duration CRUISE that marks the third flight for the unpiloted Air Force spaceflight program.
The Air Force launched the miniature space shuttle into orbit on Dec. 11, 2012 using an expendable Atlas 5 rocket. By the end of Friday (Aug. 29), the space plane had spent 627 days in orbit. That's one year, eight months, 19 days and counting, to be exact.
The Air Force continues to push the envelope of the solar-powered X-37B capabilities," said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of National Security AFFAIRS at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
A secretive space plane
The reusable X-37B looks like a mini version of NASA's now-retired space shuttle. This space plane is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.5 feet (2.9 m) tall, and has a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.6 m).
The X-37B's payload bay is the size of a PICKUP TRUCK BED. In contrast, NASA's space shuttle payload bay could fit two X-37B space planes comfortably inside. At liftoff, the X-37B space plane weighs 11,000 lbs. (4,990 kilograms).
The key to the X-37B's longevity in space rests with its ability to use SOLAR PANELS to generate power., the SOLAR PANELS extend the craft's longevity. [How the X-37B Space Plane Works (Infographic)]
"While far above the longevity of any other reusable spacecraft, it is far below that of most U.S. satellites, which are built to last for years, even decades," Johnson-Freese told Space.com. "That certainly confirms the broad, officially stated goal of the X-37B as a test bed vehicle."
It's logical to assume that the classified payloads tucked inside the X-37B include new sensors and satellite hardware that will be tested, Johnson-Freese said. If so, then the more time on orbit, the more testing that can be done, she said.
"While the classified nature of the X-37B has raised some concerns about its intended operational purposes, technically, the program must be commended for doing something new … and successfully," Johnson-Freese said.
X-37B in flight: Three missions
The Air Force is believed to have only two X-37B space planes. These space planes have flown at otal of three missions, which are known as OTV-1, OTV-2 and OTV-3. ("OTV" is short for Orbital Test Vehicle.)
The first mission blasted off in April 2010, and the craft circled Earth for 225 days. The second X-37B vehicle launched in March 2011, performing the OTV-2 mission. This spaceflight LASTED 469 days, ultimately landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in June 2012. That was the same landing site OTV-1 used after completing its mission.
The current OTV-3 mission is reusing the first X-37B space plane from the OTV-1 FLIGHT, showcasing the reusability aspect of the program.
What's the mystery mission's secret?
Before RETIRING from the Air Force this month, Gen. William Shelton, commander of the Air Force Space Command, remained bullish on the X-37B's hush-hush mission. [10 Most Destructive Space Weapon Concepts]
"I'll give you my standard line on X-37," Shelton told Space.com at the National Space Foundation's 30th Space Symposium in May. "X-37 is doing great. I can't tell you what it's doing, but it's doing great."
Meanwhile, Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems, the Air Force's supplier for the X-37B space planes, told Space.com that there was nothing it could SHARE regarding the ongoing mission.
Military interests in space
While the purpose of the X-37B space plane program remains stealthy, the U.S. military space interests are clearly visible.
In July, Shelton spoke at the Atlantic Council on the U.S. future in space, noting that "space forces are foundational to every military operation, from humanitarian to major combat operations. It really doesn't matter — space has to be there … [satellites must be] continuously deployed in place, PROVIDING communications, missile warning, navigation, space surveillance and weather services."
Traffic is building in space, as many new entrants have joined the ranks of spacefaring nations and "counter-space" capabilities (technologies to deny a nation's use of space assets) are becoming more concerning, Shelton added.
Shelton said that the U.S. Air Force Space Command is considering SEVERAL space tracks, such as lowering the cost and complexity of new space capabilities.
"We're watching carefully as other nations significantly increase their INVESTMENT in counter-space programs," Shelton said. "We absolutely must adjust our approach and response, and the time for those decisions is approaching very rapidly."
Will X-37B land in Florida?
The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office carries out the clandestine missions for X-37B space planes, the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado handles mission control for OTV FLIGHTS.
The first two OTV missions flew back to Earth on autopilot, each time touching down on a tarmac at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But that could change.
Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems has announced plans to consolidate its space plane operations by using NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a landing site for the X-37B. Earlier this year, Boeing announced plans to expand its presence in Florida by adding technology, engineeringand support JOBS at the space center.
As part of that Boeing plan, INVESTMENTS will be made to convert the former space shuttle facility, Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF-1), to a structure that would enable the U.S. Air Force "to efficiently land, recover, refurbish, and re-launch the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV)," according to Boeing representatives.
At the time of the Jan. 3 announcement, this construction was to be completed by the second quarter of 2015, Boeing representatives said.
Welche Mission erfüllt X-37 für das Pentagon?
What is the Pentagon’s secret space drone doing?
For almost two years, an unmanned space plane bearing a remarkable resemblance to NASA’s space shuttle has circled the Earth, performing a top-secret mission. It’s called the X-37B Orbital TEST Vehicle — but that’s pretty much all we know for certain.
Officially, the only role the Pentagon acknowledges is that the space plane is used to conduct experiments on NEW TECHNOLOGIES. Theories about its mission have ranged from an orbiting space bomber to an anti-satellite weapon.
The truth, however, is likely much more obvious: According to intelligence experts and satellite WATCHERS who have closely monitored its orbit, the X-37B is being used to carry secret satellites and classified sensors into space — a little-known role once played by NASA’s new retired space shuttle.
For a decade between the 1980s and early 1990s, NASA’s space shuttle was used for classified military missions, which involved ferrying military payloads into space. But the shuttle’s military role rested on an uneasy alliance between NASA and the Pentagon. Even before the 1986 Challenger disaster, which killed all seven crewmembers, the Pentagon had grown frustrated with NASA’s delays.
Now, with the X-37B, the Pentagon no longer has to rely on NASA, or humans.
The X-37B resembles the shuttle, or at least a shrunken down version of the shuttle. Like the space shuttle, the X-37B is boosted into orbit by an external rocket, but lands like an aircraft on a conventional runway. But the X-37B is just shy of 10 feet tall and slightly less than 30 feet long.
Its cargo bay, often compared to the size of a PICKUP TRUCK bed, is just big enough to carry a small satellite. Once in orbit, the X-37B deploys a foldable solar array, which is believed to power the sensors in its cargo bay.
“It’s just an updated version of the space shuttle type of activities in space,” insisted one senior Air Force official in 2010, the year of the first launch, when rampant speculation about the secret project prompted some to question whether it was possibly a space bomber.
For SEVERAL years, the X-37B was developed in plain sight, with the military saying it was just a test vehicle. But in 2009, the Air Force suddenly said it was classified, and it went from being just another technology project to an object of obsession for amateur satellite spotters and aviation enthusiasts.
On Dec. 11, 2012, the X-37B was launched for a third time, and that vehicle has now spent over 600 days in space.
And despite the secrecy surrounding its mission, the space plane’s travels are closely watched. The Air Force announces its launches, and satellite watchers monitor its flight and orbit. What is not revealed is what’s inside the cargo bay and what it’s being used for.
While the X-37B requires a rocket to boost it into orbit, its success may be helping to revive dreams of a true reusable space plane that can take off and land like an aircraft. A real space plane has long been a dream of the Pentagon, but it has also long been a sinkhole for money. Most of those efforts have fallen by the wayside, stymied by the technology needed to boost a space plane into orbit, not to mention the prohibitive costs.In the 1950s, for example, the Air Force pursued the X-20 Dynasoar, short for Dynamic Soarer, a hypersonic vehicle that was, in fact, DESIGNED to be a space bomber. It was eventually cancelled.
In the 1980s, the Pentagon funded the National Aerospace Plane, which Ronald Reagan hailed as a new “Orient Express” that would make travel from Washington to Tokyo more like a brief train trip. Pentagon officials privately cringed at the hype, knowing the technology was likely years away. A decade later, and over $1 billion spent, the National Aerospace Plane was also cancelled.
Now, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is taking another shot at this elusive goal with a project called the Experimental Space Plane, or XS-1 for short. DARPA is already funding SEVERAL companies to work on the space plane, which is supposed to fly “10 times in 10 days,” at speeds of over Mach 10. Whether this project will be any more successful than its predecessors has yet to be seen.
As for the X-37B, it’s unclear what may be next. While the secrecy surrounding the X-37B has attracted more attention to its mission, many of the more farfetched theories have fallen by the wayside.
A bomber, it turns out, would be an incredibly inefficient use of a space plane, which doesn’t carry much fuel, and so would be hard to position for an attack. Even more exotic weapons, like a space-based laser, are WELL outside the realms of modern technology (the Pentagon has spent billions trying to develop lasers for use in space in the past, with no luck).
But presuming, as most experts do, that it’s used to carry spy satellites, what has it accomplished? It’s most likely the X-37B has been used to capture imagery of the world’s political hotspots: North Korea and Iran have both topped the list of possible targets.
The X-37B could be itself operating as a maneuverable satellite — one that can change its orbit with relative ease, and return to Earth for repairs or upgrades. A space drone.
After operating in space for nearly two years, it’s hard to argue with the X-37B’s success as a space plane. By flying without people, the military’s space plane avoids the costs — not to mention the dangers — involved with putting humans in space.
What is harder to assess, however, is the X-37’s overall value to the military. Space planes are supposed to provide ECONOMICAL access to space, but to date, the Pentagon has declined to release any funding information about its robotic space plane, citing its classified mission.
The real question is whether the X-37B and its payload are providing any new imagery that is useful to the military. The National Reconnaissance OFFICE, which is responsible for the Pentagon’s secret spy satellites — and has presumably built whatever is being carried on the X-37B — has been criticized in recent years for favoring high-priced satellites over cheaper commercial imagery.
In other words, the robotic space plane, which is unclassified, is undoubtedly a technological success, but it’s unclear whether its secret payload is really doing anything particularly unique.
Only the Pentagon can answer that question, and so far, it hasn’t.
Quelle: NEW YORK POST
Geheimes Mini-Shuttle beendet nach 22-Monats-Mission seinen Flug am Dienstag
The U.S. military plans to land its secretive X-37B robotic space plane in California on Tuesday, ending a classified 22-month mission, officials said.
The exact time and DATE will depend on weather and technical factors, the Air Force said in a statement released on Friday. The X-37B space plane, also known as the Orbital TEST Vehicle, blasted off for its second mission aboard an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 11, 2012.
The 29-foot-long (9-meter) robotic spaceship, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, is an experimental vehicle that first flew in April 2010. It returned after eight months. A second vehicle blasted off in March 2011 and stayed in orbit for 15 months.
The military has said the vehicles, built by Boeing, are designed to test technologies, though details of the missions are classified.
Last week, the Air Force and NASA finalized a LEASEagreement to relocate the X-37B program from California to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. The military is studying using the space shuttle’s runway for landing, but said the X-37B currently in orbit will touch down at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where the previous two missions also ended.
PREPARATIONS UNDERWAY FOR X-37B LANDING
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Preparations for the third landing of the X-37B, the Air Force's unmanned, reusable space plane, are underway at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The exact landing date and time will depend on technical and weather considerations.
"Team Vandenberg stands ready to implement safe landing operations for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, the third time for this unique mission" said Col. Keith Baits, 30th Space Wing commander.
Space professionals from the 30th Space Wing will monitor the de-orbit and landing of the Air Force's X-37B, called the Orbital Test Vehicle mission 3 (OTV-3).
Since the third launch of the X-37B, Dec. 11, 2012, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Vandenberg crews have conducted extensive, periodic training in preparation for landing.
Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Returns to Earth After Nearly Two Years
No one seems to know much about the Air Force's X-37B secret space plane except that it appears to be working exactly as designed. The unmanned Boeing-built craft, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, returned to Earth on Friday after nearly two years — 674 days, to be exact — in space. It's the X-37B program's third mission to space and by far the longest.
The plane landed at 9:24 a.m. local time on Oct. 17 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the Air Force's 30th Space Wing announced.
"The 30th Space Wing and our mission partners, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, Boeing, and our base support contractors, have put countless hours of hard work into preparing for this landing and today we were able to see the culmination of that dedication," Colonel Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, said in a release. "I'm extremely proud of our team for coming together to execute this third safe and successful landing. Everyone from our on console space operators to our airfield managers and civil engineers take pride in this unique mission and exemplify excellence during its execution."
But just what did the X-37B do up there? Officially, the Air Force isn't telling.
To be fair, experimental military-funded space projects aren't exactly the kind of thing you expect the brass to talk about in public. Inquiries by NBC News have been met officially with a polite but firm "no comment." (However, NBC News reported back in 2001 that the X-37 concept was being promoted by the Pentagon as a next-generation space bomber.)
What is known is that the X-37B has no human pilot, or at least not one in its windowless cockpit. It's operated remotely and lands on its own. The details of its launches aren't secret, but neither are they particularly interesting: It rode an Atlas 5 booster into space on Dec. 12, 2012, and assumed orbit about 180 miles above the Earth. That last part was figured out by a network of curious astronomers, not released publicly by the Air Force.
The plane's size means there isn't room on board for much except avionics equipment, fuel for the thrusters, and a mysterious cavity about the size of a truck bed that could contain all manner of sensors, experiments, hardware — perhaps some bacterial colonies, or a bomb. No one can be sure what's inside.
Until the Air Force decides it's time to spill the beans, the X-37B will keep its secrets, even if they happen to be ordinary testing of still-classified radio hardware or radiation-resistant materials.
For now, the Air Force's two X-37B space planes are locked away at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Eventually they'll be heading for new hangars at Kennedy Space Center in Florida — getting ready, perhaps, to break the record for days in orbit once again.
X-37B Military Space Plane Lands After Record-Shattering Secret Mission
A U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane swoops down for a landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Oct. 17, 2014 after spending 22 months in space on a secret mission.The Boeing-built spacecraft launched on Dec. 11, 2012 and spent 674 days in space.
The U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane has returned to Earth after spending nearly two years on a hush-hush orbital mission.
The X-37B space plane touched down at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday (Oct. 17) at 9:24 a.m. local Pacific time (12:24 p.m. EDT; 1624 GMT), ending a mission that kicked off in December 2012 and saw the unmanned vehicle circle Earth for an unprecedented 675 days.
"I'm extremely proud of our team for coming together to execute this third safe and successful landing," said Col. Keith Balts, commander of the 30th Space Wing, which is headquartered at Vandenberg, in a statement. "Everyone from our on-console space operators to our airfield managers and civil engineers take pride in this unique mission and exemplify excellence during its execution."
Just what the space plane was doing up there for so long remains unclear; details about X-37B missions — including the payloads carried to orbit — are officially classified.
A robotic mini-shuttle
The X-37B looks like a miniature version of NASA's now-retired space shuttle. Like the shuttle, the robotic space plane launches vertically and glides back down to Earth for a runway landing when its time in space is done.
The X-37B is about 29 feet long by 9.5 feet tall (8.8 by 2.9 meters), with a wingspan of 15 feet (4.6 m) and a payload bay the size of a pickup-truck bed. Two X-37Bs could fit inside the payload bay of the space shuttle, which was 184 feet (56 m) long from nose to tail.
The Air Force owns two X-37B space planes, both of which were built by Boeing's Phantom Works division. These two solar-powered spacecraft have flown a total of three missions, which are known as OTV-1, OTV-2 and OTV-3. ("OTV" stands for Orbital Test Vehicle.)
OTV-1 launched in April 2010 and touched down in December of that year, clocking 225 days in orbit. OTV-2, which employed a different X-37B, blasted off in March 2011 and circled Earth for 469 days. OTV-3 shattered this longevity record by more than 200 days, blasting off on Dec. 11, 2012, and sending the vehicle that flew OTV-1 back to space for 22 months.
Testing space tech
The secrecy surrounding the X-37B and its missions has led to some speculation that the vehicle may be a space weapon, perhaps designed to capture or disable other nations' satellites. But the Air Force insists that this is not the case, stressing that the X-37B is merely a test bed for space tech.
"The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space, and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth," Air Force officials wrote in on online X-37B fact sheet.
"Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control; thermal protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems; and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing," they added.
Experts generally agree with this assessment, saying the X-37B is not big or maneuverable enough to be a viable satellite-grabber.
"It was probably serving some sort of intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance (ISR) function," Brian Weeden, a technical adviser with the Secure World Foundation and a former orbital analyst with the Air Force, said about OTV-3.
"And the secrecy surrounding the mission being performed by the X-37B suggests the mission was being done for the NRO, perhaps to test out and evaluate new sensor technologies or techniques," Weeden told Space.com via email, referring to the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the United States' spy satellites.
Observations by amateur satellite spotters revealed that OTV-3 flew at a relatively low altitude (218 miles, or 350 kilometers) and ranged from 43.5 degrees north latitude to 43.5 degrees south latitude, Weeden noted.
"That means it wasn't collecting [information] on Russia, which is north of those latitudes," he said. "What does fall within the latitudes it covered are the Middle East, Afghanistan, Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, so its targets for collection were likely in those regions."
The fourth X-37B mission will launch sometime in 2015, Air Force officials said.
RÜCKKEHR VON OTV3 - X-37B USAF
Boeing-built X-37B Orbital TEST Vehicle Successfully Completes 3rd FLIGHT
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Oct. 17, 2014 – The Boeing [NYSE: BA]-built X-37B Orbital TEST Vehicle (OTV) successfully de-orbited and landed today at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9:24 a.m. PDT, concluding a 674-day experimental test mission for the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. The X-37B was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on Dec. 11, 2012.
“We congratulate the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base on this third successful OTV mission,” said Ken Torok, Boeing director of Experimental Systems. “With a program total of 1,367 days on orbit over three missions, these agile and powerful small space vehicles have COMPLETED more days on orbit than all 135 Space Shuttle missions combined, which total 1,334 days. The innovative X-37B combines the best of an aircraft and a spacecraft into an affordable, responsive unmanned vehicle and continues to demonstrate that reusable space vehicles are affordable options that support vital missions.”
The first OTV mission began April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit. The second OTV mission began March 5, 2011, and concluded on June 16, 2012, after 468 days on orbit.
The X-37B program is demonstrating a reliable, reusable unmanned space test platform for the Air Force. Its objectives include space experimentation, risk reduction and concept-of-operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies that could become key ENABLERS for future space missions.
Boeing's commitment to this space-based unmanned vehicle spans a decade and includes support to the Air Force Research Lab's X-40 program, NASA's X-37 program and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's X-37 Approach & Landing Test Vehicle program.
A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is one of the world's largest defense, space and security businesses specializing in innovative and capabilities-driven customer solutions, and the world's largest and most versatile manufacturer of military aircraft. Headquartered in St. Louis, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is a $32 billion business with 56,000 employees worldwide. Follow us on Twitter: @BoeingDefense.