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Twins! Air Force Launching Second X-37B Space Plane

by John Reed on March 3, 2011

The Air Force just revealed that it’s hoping to launch the second X-37B mystery space planes into orbit tomorrow or Saturday depending on the weather. While there’s been a ton of speculation about the little mystery robo-shuttle, the Air Force won’t say what it’s for other than testing, testing and more testing. Ok, is it me or does that sentence just sound weird?

From an Air Force statement announcing the second craft:

For the first X-37B OTV mission, Air Force officials focused on testing and evaluating the performance capabilities of the vehicle. This second mission will build upon the OTV-1 on-orbit demonstration, validate and replicate initial testing and fine tune the technical parameters of the vehicle tests.

So yeah, we definitely know what it’s up to. Right.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Uncle Bill March 3, 2011 at 8:24 pm

What we do know is that it is easy to launch, has long endurance, stealthiness and an ability to maneuver that is an order of magnitude greater than anything before. And a fat payload bay.

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Snake_Plissken March 4, 2011 at 5:31 am

The fat payload bay, easy launch capability and supposed quick turnaround time reminds me of a mini version of Thunderbird 2 with its modular slot-in cargo pods.

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roland March 3, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Does it have an ion drive powered engine like that of the startrek or the NASA test flight currently used or in test?
http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2010/10/willhttp://articles.cnn.com/2000-08-18/tech/deep.spac

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Belesari March 3, 2011 at 11:07 pm

No a ION engine or VASIMR engine are both worthless in atmosphere. they are low thrust-long burn engines. For space only.
http://www.space.com/11006-air-force-x37b-space-p

Pics and shows a excellent cut out view.

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Guest March 4, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Matter/Antimatter generator? Doubtful.

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Nadnerbus March 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm

It's probably going out to replace the satellites put in orbit by the CIA to control our brain waves. Those things have to be getting old now. I barely see the crazy homeless people wearing tinfoil anymore.

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Xerox March 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Well, I personally would've rather seen this be handled by NASA; not because they're more competent or better funded (because we all know that they're not), but because they're not part of the military.

China's space program is technically under no longer under the PLA and is so far mostly science-based (as well as nationalism-based) program. I hate to see both China and the US suddenly divert a lot of their efforts to secret launches of mysterious space craft by the their respective military's.

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Belesari March 3, 2011 at 11:04 pm

If you accually believe that i find it sad.

There is nothing not controled by the communist party in china. Saying that they are no longer under the PLA is silly they are both controlled by the same people.

This is the DoD's solution to ASAT weapons.

This isnt to explore a new shuttle design. This is a weapons system ment to supply intelligence to warfighters.

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John Deere March 4, 2011 at 7:11 am

What is this, I don't even…

This entire space shuttle project was designed with military applications in mind. NASA and the military are intricately bound together. Always have been.

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Jeremiah Woods March 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm

And a;ways will be!

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richardb March 4, 2011 at 10:31 am

I guess you would categorize China's ASAT demonstration 3 years ago as a science experiment? Perhaps Chinese scientists wished to observe the effect of a sudden growth of 10's of thousands of additional pieces of space debris in low earth orbit?
I hope views like yours aren't common in official DC. But I have doubts.

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Xerox March 5, 2011 at 1:50 am

No no. What I'm referring to is that it seems much less nefarious if it was under NASA. When it's the air-force doing it, everybody says: "hey, it's military secrets'. When it's NASA doing it, everybody says: "hey, they're doing science." It might be the exact same program doing the exact same tests, but there's a completely different public opinion of it.

The ASAT demo was just a stupid military muscle-flexing, the same as the US counter-demonstration. It's just China exclaiming: "hey, look what we can do!" and the US responding: "We can too and have done so before."

It would be wonderfully ironic if a Chinese manned space missile were to fail due to being struck by debris created by that event.

@John Deere
What sensible military applications does the space shuttle have? Anything that can be done military space shuttle can be done cheaper and with much greater efficiency with a missile or a satellite.

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STemplar March 3, 2011 at 11:12 pm

It can stay in orbit 9 months and is very maneuverable with a payload bay. What's it for? Probably a lot of stuff, pretty much anything you would want to do in low orbit. The initial flights are probably to test the first payloads they have come up with to see how they work. Chief amongst the missions is probably leading into a conflict to have the ability replace satellite capabilities quickly if we lose some. If you know you are about to go into a conflict, launch a half dozen and keep them on station to form a quick reaction redundant replacement capability.

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Jeff m March 4, 2011 at 1:47 am

This is a weapon carrier pure and simple. Perhaps it carries a new type of nuclear weapon that directs a focused beam of fission energy via multiple semi-critical events. You don’t have to have nuclear weapons in space all the time but they should be ready at all times. That’s what this does.

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Joe Schmoe March 5, 2011 at 3:06 am

Nuclear weapons are banned from space since the 1960's. We found out that a nuclear detonation in orbit damages us as much as them due to the EMP.

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Guest March 4, 2011 at 2:04 am

More war junk we don't need and that's wrecking the country.

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Jeremiah Woods March 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm

yea but war is fun, just give war a chance! if you've never been then you'd never know!

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Emm March 4, 2011 at 3:36 am

they are probably telling the truth…making something take off, orbit, change orbit and land ON A RUNWAY ALMOST ANYWHERE, Without melting! is not easy, and NASA who started this program over a decade ago could not afford to continue it..so its probably a few years after first flight that it becomes operationally useful. ALSO any satellite it will service will have to be designed from start, to accept servicing (like the Hubble was for example).

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Belesari March 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm

No its not there isnt enough room for the equipment nessesary to keep a man alive.

But your point is valid in one way. With all our problems with hacks this could be a way to get very sensitive info fast. Plus these can change their orbit so you never truely know if your being watched.

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Stratege March 5, 2011 at 4:54 am

So what is purpose of this thing? Would it have any strike capabilities in future?

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Ben March 7, 2011 at 8:08 am

There is only one practical reason to use a space plane instead of some other sort of vehicle.

Fragile payload retrieval is the name of the game here.

Desert landings are tough on the payloads of capsule vehicles, while water landings require expensive retrieval fleets. Now that NASA has finally developed a cheap, tough, multiple use, ablative tile heat shield (instead of the fragile puffed glass on the space shuttle), a space plane is significantly more cost effective.
(the primary reason that the space shuttle was a financial disaster was the excessive fragility of the thermal soak tiles, which required replacement after every flight, instead of lasting the lifetime of the orbiter.)

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