All good top secret robotic space plane test missions must come to an end, and so it goes for the Air Force's X-37B, otherwise known as the Orbital Test Vehicle 1 (OTV-1). After seven months of thrilling amateur satellite watchers with its shifting orbital flight patterns and making China nervous, the X-37B could be back on the ground at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as soon as this Friday.
The X-37B, an unmanned robotic space plane that has been in orbit since April 22, is described by the military as a means to test new materials and sensors in space and otherwise conduct longer unmanned missions in orbital space (the plane is designed to spend up to nine months in orbit). Like the Space Shuttles, the X-37B is reusable, landing on a terrestrial runway automatically at the end of its missions.
Unlike the shuttles, the mysterious Air Force project is not designed to carry human crews. At 29 feet 3 inches, it's not very big (and kind of hard to spot in orbit) but boasts a payload bay that can ferry experiments (or anything else) into space cheaply and quickly.
It's unclear exactly when the Orbital Test Vehicle will touch down – that depends on factors like weather and other technical considerations. But the program won't sit idle for long. The Air Force plans to send its second X-37B aloft this spring.
are those LEGOS on the inside of that container?
How is this top-secret?
And i think those Lego things are weights to provide inertia or something.
Gizmodo beat you to this story. Yep, even used the same picture.
That is cool that it can be reused and relatively cheaply reused. I wonder if NASA is using similar technology for their missions.
It's so top-secret, you don't even know it's secret.
Why does a vehicle which delivers satellites into orbit have to remain in orbit itself for up to nine months? That would be like the taxi that brought you to work parking outside your office until you're ready to commute home.
And how often do satellites ever come back to the ground? The only payload that we take into space and return is human.
I tell you, this thing ain't just going into orbit, and whatever they say about not carrying people, it's for carrying people.
I'm . . .going to go ahead this time and NoT heed my own usual advice when it comes to the trollers..
The "legos" ? ...uhh those most likely have something to do with temperature/humidity control I would think.
Yeap, this is no longer TOP SECRET, but it is secret enough that you aren't allowed to know any of the details about it aka: you likely need "top secret" clearance to find out, so in that way it is ;)
Check your sources for the original publication times... universetoday(com) seems to have one of the earliest articles mentioning the X37B's return (and is where gizmodo got their information).
No one said it's for transferring satellites into space lmao, but at close to thirty feet long, it surely could shuttle people to & from space if they wanted it to.
The thing is, robots don't need life support, or have to worry about G-forces making them pass out, or require counseling if you accidently kill one of their friends for that matter. .so I don't think it's for people right now ;)
USAF does like it some NASA :D
Very cool. The airforce is really involved in space now.
@engineerzero - they said that it is for testing materials and sensors in space, not just for dumping off, or picking up, satellites. There are various tests that need time in space that don't need to fly away, or even leave the craft. Experiments like plant life in space under differing conditions and so on. maybe they can use it as an emergency pick up for people stranded on damaged crafts in space as well.
@aerosphere the airforce has worked in one way or another with NASA since the beginning. not to mention 54 austrnouats are (or were) members of the air force. some can even say that their early Nasa program was just to make better rockets for the airforce. but either way. this plane is cool.
I hope NASA uses innovative technologies for their future manned missions, because these ballistic rockets are already very outdated. Mankind needs a safer and affordable way to get to deep space.
If it's "Top Secret" then:
- The mission could not be about ferrying satellites into orbit -- what's Top Secret about that? (I mean in the sense that Top Secret satellites are deployed into space using conventional methods all the time. Why would the Space Plane designed for that purpose itself need to be Top Secret?)
- Could not be about testing materials, (even secret materials), in space -- why do they need a new "Top Secret" space plane for that? Any old, run-of-the-mill, satellite can be modified for that purpose. Unless the materials are part of the plane itself -- whose ultimate mission remains Top Secret.
- Unless the sensors are also an integral part of the space plane, the previous argument applies to sensors as well.
The most intriguing quote is: "boasts a payload bay that can ferry experiments (or anything else) into space." -- Especially the "(or anything else)" part. That is where the Top Secretness of this project really lies.
Amendment to my previous comment:
I'll take all that back if the Space Plane is designed to be super stealthy -- or more!? THEN I can see the "Top Secretness" of that.
(For you language cops out there -- as far as I know, I just made up the phrase "Top Secretness".)
It took our DNA vault to the moon and animals are next. They will fire up Spaceship Luna at the end of next year and it should break free of geolock in about a month. Two orbits of Earth to pick up V and the third pass will give one last quick look down on the Nasca lines and me; playing harmonica on top of Mt. Rainier. If they don't remember the big fire extinguisher, Spaceship Luna will become a high velocity comet rather than a camper to Mars. I probably shouldn't be telling you all this stuff; but I figure that if they couldn't find me having stowed away on the X-37B in seven months, they probably can't find me now either.
Maybe I can get some military peers to help explain the classifications of information for use and dispersal, like, Secret and Top Secret. Many programs of which even the casual news reader would be aware are still strictly speaking classified and maintained as Secret or Top Secret. Missile systems and the nuclear power program are two examples of military hardware we are all "aware" of while not having any kind of performance, mechanical, or material specifications available for dissemination. Top Secret or Secret in and of itself does not describe whether the general public has become or should be aware of a programs' or hardwares' existence. Sure we can all see a picture of the plane but see how many can put their hands on one, much like the specifics within released information (like Jane's Military Journals) don't release material secrets that require clearance. And as far as the uses for the plane itself, those experiments will sometimes be science based, human based (if six humans in serious spacesuits for life support could be needed in space for some strange reason--maybe we could give them grabbers and put them on KP duty for space trash), technical based, or spy based, and all would be classified on their individual merits. Simply knowing something exists doesn't mean you then know everything, or anything for that matter, about it.