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Raumfahrt - Air Force X-37B OTV-5 secret spaceplane lands after 780 days in orbit

27.10.2019 / 18.10 MEZ

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Secretary of the Air Force Barrett: 'The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane.'

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force X-37B spaceplane successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility Oct. 27 at 3:51 AM EST, the Air Force announced.

This was the fifth mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. It flew for 780 days during this mission, breaking its own record by being in orbit for more than two years. As of today, the total number of days spent on-orbit for the entire test vehicle program is 2,865 days, the Air Force said. The spaceplane originally was designed to fly for just 270 days.

“The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane,” Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett said in a news release.

The mission, called OTV-5, was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Sept. 7, 2017.

The spaceplane program, managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, has been used for science experiments to test technologies in a long-duration space environment.

“With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives,” said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. “This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites.”

One of the experiments on OTV-5 is the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s second Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader (ASETS-II). This experiment will measure the long term performance of an oscillating heat pipe on orbit. Oscillating heat pipes are capable of transporting more than 45 times more heat than copper and are one of many technologies that the Air Force is testing to help advance space vehicle designs, AFRL said.

The original X-37 program was led by NASA and ran from 1999 to 2004, when NASA transferred it to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA continued the development of an approach and landing test vehicle. The Air Force adapted NASA’s original design of the orbital test vehicle to make the X-37B. Boeing is the prime contractor.

The Oct. 27 landing marked the second time the X-37B touched down at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility. Mission 4 landed at Kennedy Space Center May 7, 2017, after 718 days in orbit.

The Air Force plans to launch the sixth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral in 2020.

Quelle: SN

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Update: 28.10.2019

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US Air Force's X-37B Space Plane Lands After Record 780-Day Mystery Mission

What was it doing up there?

x-37b-otv-5-780day

A U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane, an unpiloted miniature space shuttle, is seen after landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on Oct. 27, 2019 to end its record 780-day OTV-5 mission.
(Image: © U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force's unpiloted X-37B space plane landed back on Earth Sunday (Oct. 27) after a record 780 days in orbit , racking up the fifth ultra-long mission for the military's mini-shuttle fleet. 

The X-37B's Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5) mission ended with a smooth autonomous touchdown at the Shuttle Landing Facility of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:51 a.m. EDT (0751 GMT), Air Force officials said. The mission originally launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Sept. 7, 2017.

With the successful landing, OTV-5 broke the previous X-37B mission record of 718 days set by the OTV-4 mission in May 2017. OTV-5 is the second X-37B mission to land at NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility (OTV-4 was the first), with previous missions landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. 

"The safe return of this spacecraft, after breaking its own endurance record, is the result of the innovative partnership between Government and Industry," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in a statement. "The sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the U.S. Space Force."

The U.S. Air Force has at least two reusable X-37B spacecraft in its fleet, and both have flown multiple flights. The solar-powered space planes were built by Boeing and feature a miniature payload bay to host experiments or smaller satellites. They were originally designed to spend up to 240 days in orbit.

"The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane," said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett said in the same statement. "Each successive mission advances our nation's space capabilities."

Air Force officials have said that the exact nature of X-37B missions are classified, though they have dropped hints about the types of experiments OTV-5 performed in orbit. One payload was the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, an experiment designed to "test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long-duration space environment," according to an Air Force statement.

OTV-5 also flew to a higher-inclination orbit than previous X-37B flights, suggesting it had new experiments or technology tests in store. In a statement today, Air Force officials confirmed OTV-5 carried multiple experiments and carried smaller satellites into orbit. 

“With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives," Randy Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director, said in the statement. "This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites."

The X-37B space plane was originally developed by NASA in 1999 to serve as a technology test bed for future spacecraft and looks much like a miniature version of  a space shuttle. In 2004, the military's Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) took over the project, ultimately turning it over to the U.S. Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office a few years later. 

X-37B vehicles are 29 feet (8.8 meters) long, 9.5 feet (2.9 m) tall and have a wingspan of just under 15 feet (4.6 m). Their payload bays are about the size of a pickup truck bed, about 7 feet long and 4 feet wide (2.1 by 1.2 m).

The first X-37B mission, OTV-1, launched in April 2010 and spend 224 days in orbit. OTV-2 launched in March 2011, marking the first flight of a second X-37B, and stayed in orbit for 468 days. 

OTV-3 marked the first reflight of an X-37B (using the OTV-1 vehicle) and launched in December 2012 on a 674-day flight. The OTV-4 mission launched in May 2015 (the second flight of the OTV-2 vehicle) and spent 718 days in space. The first four OTV missions launched on Atlas V rockets, with OTV-5 marking the fleet's first use of a SpaceX Falcon 9.

"This spacecraft is a key component of the space community. This milestone demonstrates our commitment to conducting experiments for America’s future space exploration," said X-37B program manager Lt. Col. Jonathan Keen in the Air Force statement. "Congratulations to the X-37B team for a job well done."

Quelle: SC

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Air Force spaceplane returns to Earth after 780-day mission

 

An unpiloted Air Force X-37B spaceplane, one of two winged orbiters used to carry out classified research, made a surprise landing at the Kennedy Space Center early Sunday to close out a record 780-day mission. It was the fifth flight in the secretive Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) program, pushing total time aloft to 2,865 days.

"This program continues to push the envelope as the (Air Force's) only reusable space vehicle," Randy Walden, director of the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office, said in a statement. "With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives."

The unpiloted orbiters, built by Boeing, are based on the same lifting body design used for the space shuttle and they fly a similar re-entry trajectory to a runway touchdown. The X-37B features a small 4-foot by 7-foot payload bay and uses a deployable solar array for power.

The spacecraft are believed to fly as orbital test beds for advanced technology sensors and other systems but the program is classified, and the Air Force provides few details. Walden said the latest mission "successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites."

He was referring to launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocketon September 7, 2017. While the X-37B was the primary payload, several small Cubesat satellites also were carried into orbit.

The orbiter landed at 3:51 a.m. EDT Sunday.

"The safe return of this spacecraft, after breaking its own endurance record, is the result of the innovative partnership between government and Industry," General David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said in the statement. "The sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the U.S. Space Force."

The X-37B is one of only two operational spacecraft capable of multiple flights to and from orbit. SpaceX's unpiloted Dragon cargo ship also can be refurbished for additional flights.

Orbital Test Vehicle No. 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral on April 22, 2010, landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on December 3. Mission duration was 224 days. A second OTV was launched March 5, 2011, landing at Vandenberg on June 16, 2012, for a mission duration of 469 days.

The first OTV took off on its second mission from Cape Canaveral on December 11, 2012, spent 675 days in orbit and landed in California on October 17, 2014. Flight No. 4, using the second OTV, was launched on May 20, 2015. After 718 days in orbit, the spacecraft made the program's first landing on the Kennedy Space Center's 3-mile-long shuttle runway. Sunday's landing was the second.

Both OTVs are processed for flight in two refurbished space shuttle hangars adjacent to NASA's huge Vehicle Assembly Building at the Florida spaceport. They are launched from the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Air Force says the program plans a sixth launch in 2020.

Quelle: CBS News

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U.S. military’s X-37B spaceplane lands in Florida

The U.S. Air Force’s reusable Boeing-built X-37B spaceplane returned to Earth early Sunday with a touchdown at NASA’s Shuttle Landing Facility runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a few miles away from where it launched 780 days ago atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The unpiloted winged spaceplane, resembling a miniature space shuttle, touched down at the Florida spaceport at 3:51 a.m. EDT (0751 GMT) Sunday, the Air Force said in a press release.

“The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane,” said Barbara Barrett, Secretary of the Air Force, in a statement. “Each successive mission advances our nation’s space capabilities.”

While the X-37B itself is not classified, details of its activities in orbit have remained largely secret. The spaceplane’s planned landing Sunday was also not disclosed in advance by the Air Force.

The X-37B landing Sunday completed the fifth — and longest — flight in the program’s history.

“The safe return of this spacecraft, after breaking its own endurance record, is the result of the innovative partnership between government and industry,” said Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, in a statement.

The X-37B executed a ground-commanded deorbit burn early Sunday to target landing at the Kennedy Space Center, then performed a series of banking maneuvers during re-entry to dissipate speed before lining up with the shuttle-era runway near Cape Canaveral.

“With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives,” said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, which manages the X-37B program. “This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites.”

The reusable X-37B spaceplane, developed by Boeing Phantom Works, is designed to launch on top of a conventional rocket. Once in orbit, the craft opens its payload bay doors and extends a power-generating solar array, allowing it to remain in space for years.

NASA’s space shuttle was limited in mission duration to less than three weeks. NASA’s shuttle orbiter carried astronauts on every flight and used fuel cells consuming liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to produce electricity, and hydraulic actuators for its flight control surfaces, landing gear breaks and other components.

The X-37B — about one-fourth the length of NASA’s shuttle orbiters — uses electro-mechanical actuators, removing concerns about the limited useful of hydraulic control systems.

The Air Force says the X-37B “performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.”

The fifth X-37B mission, which ended Sunday, launched Sept. 7, 2017, from launch pad 39A at Kennedy aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The four previous X-37B flights took off on United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets from a nearby pad at Cape Canaveral.

The X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, has a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.5 meters) and a length of more than 29 feet (8.9 meters). The ship’s wings fit snugly inside the 17-foot-diameter (5-meter) payload shrouds on the Falcon 9 and Atlas 5 rockets.

“Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing,” said Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing, which provides range safety support for launches and landings at Cape Canaveral. “Our team has been preparing for this event, and I am extremely proud to see their hard work and dedication culminate in today’s safe and successful landing of the X-37B.”

Boeing refurbishes the X-37B spaceplanes inside a former space shuttle hangar at the Kennedy Space Center. Ground teams were expected to roll the X-37B vehicle back to the hangar near Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building later Sunday.

After its launch in September 2017, amateur satellite trackers found the X-37B in April 2018 in a circular 221-mile-high (356-kilometer) orbit inclined 54.5 degrees to the equator, a higher orbital inclination than the previous four X-37B missions. The higher inclination allows the spacecraft to fly over more parts of Earth on each trip around the planet.

Since then, the global community of satellite observers tracked the spaceplane as it changed altitude several times, finally maneuvering into a a low orbit with an average altitude of roughly 170 miles (274 kilometers) earlier this month. Previous X-37B missions had settled in a lower orbit in the weeks before landing.

One experiment that flew on the fifth X-37B mission was the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader payload. The experiment was designed to to test electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies for future satellite thermal control systems.

No other mission objectives were released by the Air Force, other than statements suggesting the X-37B mission provided a ride for other undisclosed small satellites.

Any small satellites that were deployed from the X-37B have not appeared in the U.S. military’s catalog of human-made space objects, and were not registered in accordance with the United Nations Registration Convention, according to experts who track space activity.

“Unless they mean the satellites were attached and not deployed, this is a violation of the UN convention,” wrote Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who maintains an authoritative log of all global space launches.

The United States is one of 69 states that have ratified the UN Registration Convention, a list that also includes space powers such as China and Russia.

Ted Molczan, a leader in the global community of hobbyists who expertly monitor satellite movements, said the only two entries in the U.S. military’s catalog of human-made space objects attributed to the fifth X-37B mission were the spaceplane itself and its Falcon 9 upper stage. He added he was not aware of any sightings of satellites that may have been deployed by the X-37B.

If the X-37B released small satellites in orbit, it would be the first time that the United States or Russia have “blatantly flouted” the UN Registration Convention, McDowell tweeted.

“It is true that China and some other countries have not been fully compliant with the convention, but those cases did not involve deliberate withholding of information about secret military satellites,” McDowell wrote.

Boeing has manufactured two X-37B spaceplanes for the Air Force, and the next X-37B mission is scheduled to launch between April and June 2020 aboard an Atlas 5 rocket.

Here is a list of the X-37B missions to date:

Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 1
(first flight of Vehicle No. 1)
Launch: April 22, 2010, on Atlas 5 rocket
Landing: Dec. 3 2010, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Duration: 224 days

Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 2
(first flight of Vehicle No. 2)
Launch: March 5, 2011, on Atlas 5 rocket
Landing: June 16, 2012, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Duration: 469 days

Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 3
(second flight of Vehicle No. 1)
Launch: Dec. 11, 2012, on Atlas 5 rocket
Landing: Oct. 17, 2014, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Duration: 675 days

Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 4
(unconfirmed which vehicle)
Launch: May 20, 2015, on Atlas 5 rocket
Landing: May 7, 2017, at Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Duration: 718 days

Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5
(unconfirmed which vehicle)
Launch: Sept. 7, 2017, on Falcon 9 rocket
Landing: Oct. 27, 2019, at Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Duration: 780 days

Quelle: SN

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X-37B breaks record, lands after 780 days in orbit

WASHINGTON (AFNS) --

The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility Oct. 27, 2019, at 3:51 a.m.

The spaceplane conducted on-orbit experiments for 780 days during its mission, recently breaking its own record by being in orbit for more than two years. As of today, the total number of days spent on-orbit for the entire test vehicle program is 2,865 days.

“The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett. “Each successive mission advances our nation’s space capabilities.”

This is the Air Force’s premier reusable and unmanned spacecraft, providing the performance and flexibility to improve technologies in a way that allows scientists and engineers to recover experiments tested in a long-duration space environment.

“The safe return of this spacecraft, after breaking its own endurance record, is the result of the innovative partnership between government and industry,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “The sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the U.S. Space Force.”

Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.

“This program continues to push the envelope as the world’s only reusable space vehicle. With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives,” said Randy Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. “This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites.”

The distinctive ability to test new systems in space and return them to Earth is unique to the X-37B program and enables the U.S. to more efficiently and effectively develop space capabilities necessary to maintain superiority in the space domain.

“This spacecraft is a key component of the space community. This milestone demonstrates our commitment to conducting experiments for America’s future space exploration,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Keen, X-37B program manager. “Congratulations to the X-37B team for a job well done.”

This will be the second time the X-37B landed at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility — Mission 4 landed after 718 days in orbit. The spaceplane was designed for an on-orbit duration of 270 days.

“Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing,” said Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, 45th Space Wing commander. “Our team has been preparing for this event, and I am extremely proud to see their hard work and dedication culminate in today’s safe and successful landing of the X-37B.”

The fifth mission launched on Sept. 7, 2017, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on-board a Space X Falcon 9 booster, and the Air Force is preparing to launch the sixth X-37B mission from CCAFS in 2020.

1000w-q95

Quelle: USAF


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