Air Force launches space plane 1 day after delay

Mar 06, 2011

The Air Force has launched a second experimental space plane that resembles a small shuttle.

An Atlas 5 rocket blasted off with the unmanned space plane Saturday afternoon from Cape Canaveral. Air Force officials aren't saying much about the X-37B orbital . It's the second of its type to be launched. The first rocketed into orbit last spring. It landed in California in December following a 270-day mission.

The X-37B is 29 feet long with a wing span of 15 feet.

The says the newest craft will serve as a test platform for satellite sensors and systems. Officials say the voyage will build upon what was learned during the first mission, though they won't say what that was.

The ultimate purpose of the X-37B and details about the craft largely remain a mystery.

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jmlvu
4 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2011
Is the space shuttle design that good that the military couldn't come up with something better?
CrowdedCranium
1 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2011
Well of course not. after twelve years and nobody is saying how much they should at least launch to two test vehicles even if all they do is hang in a high orbit long enough to cause ulcers for the Sino Space command leaders. I'm sure the Russians are in on the joke.

And no you will not get a whiff of a runnway to milkyway aircraft until it is obsolete and superceded.
Thecis
5 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2011
I think the design is still up-to-date. The design of commercial airliners have not radiacally been changed over the last few decades. Aerodynamics won't really change. Also cars do still have 4 wheels most of the time.
I think the real advantage is in the propulsion system and electronics. It still needs to fly to get back though. As long as there is not really a way to "defy" of cancel-out gravitation certain designs will have to be followed.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2011
Although the x37 looks a lot like the space shuttle, the actual design is quite unique. If you look up the x40 test vehicle that preceded the x37, there's a good picture on wiki that shows how different it is.

The body cross-section of the x37 compared to the wing area is much different than the shuttle, and the dual tail design is another big difference in terms of basic design characteristics. The x37 supposedly also uses an entirely new heat shield design, and it's unmanned. It's also designed to stay in orbit much longer than a shuttle.

The really cool question about the x37 is: Why are they building it? The obvious things, like refueling or repairing surveilance satellites are possible, but why would that be a secret? DARPA has also been working on the possibility of using hypersonic weapons. Imagine using a system like this to deliver a stealth nuke into orbit, where it could silently wait for a day it is needed. There would be no defense against it. No chance to destroy it
Parsec
3 / 5 (2) Mar 07, 2011
The really cool question about the x37 is: Why are they building it? The obvious things, like refueling or repairing surveilance satellites are possible, but why would that be a secret? DARPA has also been working on the possibility of using hypersonic weapons. Imagine using a system like this to deliver a stealth nuke into orbit, where it could silently wait for a day it is needed. There would be no defense against it. No chance to destroy it

The US has demonstrated anti-sat capability and so have the Chinese. Given the energies involved in cross orbit collisions and the ease of both tracking and attacking space based weapons...

I would say this assumption is completely wrong. If it is a weapon system base, it will be quite vulnerable to intercept and destroy.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2011
That's not true at all. If you use something like the x37 to deliver a payload into orbit, then the payload could be contained in a stealth cover that would make it virtually impossible to detect. By using a 'space truck' design to deliver your package into orbit, the package itself doesn't need to have any external features that would make it vulnerable to detection by sight or by radar. It's not practical to do that with a standard delivery system, as the outer shell has to be designed to withstand launch, and there has to be propulsion and navigation/communication antennas too. By using the 'space truck' concept, you can sidestep all those observable design problems.
Chef
not rated yet Mar 13, 2011
I see the purpose more of a "satellite on demand" type of function. In times of need, they could launch this and park it over any place on the Earth to be used as an orbiting spy satellite or relay station for combat troop. It allows you to customize for whatever your need may be.