U.S. Air Force\'s secret X-37B unmanned Space Plane close to test launch - April 2010

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U.S. Air Force's secret X-37B unmanned Space Plane close to test launch - April 2010

A secret unmanned Space Plane, the U.S. Air Force X-37B, may rocket spaceward from Florida atop an Atlas booster, circle the planet for an extended time, then land on autopilot in April 2010. The vehicle itself is about 29 feet long with a roughly 15-foot wingspan and weighs in at over five tons at liftoff.

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.

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.

While the program is now under the U.S. Air Force, NASA is looking forward to receiving data from the advanced technology work.
... Quote:
NASA has a long history of involvement with the X-37 program. We continue to monitor and share information on technology developments. 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.
said Gary Wentz, chief engineer Science and Missions Systems Office at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

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.

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.

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.

More on the link: http://www.space.com/busine...

X-37B-space=plane.jpg - 35.14kb
By netchicken: posted on 25-10-2009








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