The Air Force’s X-37B--its secret robotic space plane that’s been orbiting the Earth on a mission shrouded in mystery for more than a year--landed safely in the wee hours Saturday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Orbital Test Vehicle 2 (OTV-2) is the second X-37B test vehicle to successfully complete an orbital mission and autonomously return to Earth, following sister spacecraft OTV-1’s 225-day mission in 2010.
NASA may no longer possess a reusable vehicle for traveling to and from low earth orbit, but the United States Air Force has all but established a permanent presence up there. Maybe you’ve forgotten about the X-37B, the USAF’s pilotless, reusable space plane that’s been in orbit since launching on March 5, 2011, but it’s still up there making laps.
The European Space Agency announced plans today to launch a privately built snub-nosed space bullet, which sort of resembles a wingless, truncated space shuttle, within the next two years. Thales Alenia Space, builder of several International Space Station components and many European satellites, is manufacturing the spacecraft.
The Skylon spaceplane, a concept spacecraft that has been incubating in the UK for something like three decades, has all of a sudden taken a big leap forward thanks to a technical review by the European Space Agency. And if the money comes through--Skylon is a privately funded venture--this summer’s test program could quickly turn into a full-fledged ground demonstrator engine followed by a fifth scale model of one of the engines that would actually take to the skies.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.