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Thermal Cam Video: X-37B Robo Shuttle Landing

by John Reed on June 18, 2012

We’ve all seen the pics from the Air Force’s X-37B secret shuttle’s return to Earth after a record-breaking 469 days in space Saturday morning. Now e’ve got some great thermal video of the robo-shuttle, officially known as X-3&B Orbital Test Vehicle-2 (OTV-2), landing just after Sunrise last week at Vandenburg Air Force Base on the California coast. Notice just how hot the nose section if of the little craft, as you can see from the video above, the heat-resistant tiles on the nose are charred white.

As is usual with the X-37B, we have no idea what the damned thing was doing up there. The first X-37B, OTV-1, is slated to be sent into orbit sometime this fall aboard an Atlas V rocket out of Cape Canaveral, Fl.

Click through the jump for more pics and the video.

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

RunningBear June 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm

"we have no idea what the damned thing was doing up there"''

"Taking care of business….."

Curiosity killed the cat! :)

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Bronco46 November 28, 2012 at 5:46 pm

And that's the way it should stay!

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Taylor June 18, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Glad we've got at least one secret left.

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DGR June 18, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Its easy to keep a secret, just dont tell Congress about it.

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RunningBear June 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Isn't it delightful that the sleaze of our society ("Politicians") are being denied their rightful opportunity to "line their pockets" at the expense of our nation's defense! Ha!, ………Keep flying high USAF! :)

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Stinchin August 18, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Right lmao ~ <3

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Hut June 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm

My question is why does the ground crew always appear wearing "bunny" Haz-Mat suits?

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Zeb June 18, 2012 at 3:19 pm

To protect the aliens that were carried back ;)

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phila_guy June 18, 2012 at 3:23 pm

they're the first ones out with a portable gas detector to check for any hydrazine leaks which is the maneuvering thruster's fuel.

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UAVgeek June 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Because most thrusters on orbital vehicles use Hydrazine, quite toxic.

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Stag June 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm

^^^ SCAPE suits(Self-Contained Atmospheric Protection Ensemble).. And the hose attached to the back is purging the internal bay of the same toxic and or explosive gases mentioned above probably.

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Bronco46 November 28, 2012 at 5:48 pm

They need protection from any residual booster and thruster fuel.

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Prodozul June 18, 2012 at 2:12 pm

So awesome

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miles June 18, 2012 at 2:29 pm

That is verry cool.

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Guest June 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Is the purpose to intimidate China, Iran, N Korea? I'd like to see the orbit track for this, it may give clues as to if or what it is spying on.

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Guest June 18, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Does anyone know if this craft can be maneuvered while in orbit?

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cs_raynor June 18, 2012 at 6:50 pm

I would imagine so, there are manuvering thrusters on the nose of the craft and looks to be the same on the rear.

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Guest June 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm

So my next question would be is it possible this is nothing more than a temporary, maneuverable, satellite replacement? As in one or multiple of our satellites are lost in a conflict and a number of these aircraft are sent up to replace them? Think of it like the LCS, modules to fit any number of different mission requirements.

With our stated goal of increasing our presence in the Pacific (the implied being to counter China) and everyone clearly knowing that IF conflict were to break out satellites would be targeted first, it would make sense to have a quickly deployable, modular (for any purpose) design to replace them as needed until more could be produced and placed into orbit.

Not sure if this is something that has already been posed or if they would be any more survivable than a standard satellite; just a thought.

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Russ June 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I do believe you are on to something. While possible not the original purpose, I guess a multi-purpose modular design would be an asset to any confrontation where satellites are targets. I am also aware of several older communications birds sitting in storage for just such an occasion.

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STemplar June 18, 2012 at 10:35 pm

I think people try and discern what it will be used for and really all we need to do is look at what it can do. Travel to and from orbit with a payload bay that could accept presumably any sort of purpose built module that will fit in it. It can maneuver in orbit, which of course makes itself a highly difficult target, and it can stay aloft for over a year.

What can it do? It can do anything that will fit in its payload bay will do, stay aloft for over and year, and be a nigh on impossible target to intercept. I'll tell you what it does, it owns orbit for the United States of America.

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tiger June 19, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Most useful Space sats have to go in high earth orbit. So, I doubt that.

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TLAM Strike June 18, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Depends on what you mean by "Maneuver". It is known that it can change its orbital inclination and maneuver on its axis. Weather or not it can change altitude is another question, but based on the size of the spacecraft aft of the payload bay it is certainly capable of some changes in orbital alt.

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Rob June 18, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I wonder if the X-37Bs will fly again. I doubt that Boeing will be able convince anyone to fund (produce) the X-37C.

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LetsLobRob June 19, 2012 at 12:30 am

Leave it alone…

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LtKitty June 19, 2012 at 1:07 am

Shutup and take my tax dollars! This thing is awesome.

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Brandon June 19, 2012 at 2:41 am

I've got any idea. what if the spaceplane has weapons on it to destroy other satellites and launch small bombs from low earth orbit.

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joe June 19, 2012 at 3:05 am

It wouldn't be hard to jerry rig an ASAT weapon into the bay – something analagous to the ASM-15. Orbit-to-surface is a bit more awkward – aiming a weapon like that precisely enough to do any good is a bit of an art form, and it's capacity isn't that much

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Black Owl June 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm

The Soviets made a fighter satellite that could destroy other satellites in the late 1960's. They called it the Istrebitel Sputnik ("Destroyer of Satellites"). They decided to mount an exploding weapon that would fire a burst of shrapnel like a shot gun to increase the chances of hitting the target. It succeeded in killing satellites in tests, but it also spread a lot of space debris, which would pose a danger to every other man-made object in orbit. They still made it operational had it ready to use should WWIII have come about.

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Thomas L. Nielsen June 21, 2012 at 11:42 am

Tryin again, since my first reply was deleted instantly (because it contained a hyperlink?):

The Soviets also had plans for a manned space fighter, the Spiral (or rather, one particular version of the Spiral):

http://www *dot* buran *dot* ru/htm/molniya3 *dot* htm

The Combat Orbital Aerospaceplane would be armed with six 25-kg homing missiles for destroying enemy spacecraft.

Sub-orbital and aerodynamic test articles were flown, but the full Monty never came online.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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Thomas L. Nielsen June 21, 2012 at 11:46 am

Oh, and let's not forget the "Evil Twin" of the Apollo LM:

http://www *dot* astronautix *dot* com/craft/apolmcsd *dot* htm

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

Mark June 19, 2012 at 6:37 am

This is real life.

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Jumpmaster77 June 19, 2012 at 10:23 am

The name of this space ship is Prometheus and it was used to follow a map to the distant moon LV-223.

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Black Owl June 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm

It's a good think this one didn't have any people on it. If it did they could wind up bringing something… well alien to our world… That something could also wind up being harmful.

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Prodozul June 20, 2012 at 7:04 pm

So along as we have Sigourney Weaver breathing we got nothing to worry about.

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Black Owl June 21, 2012 at 11:36 am

Absolutely.

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WarPony June 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Probably picked up robonaut from the ISS and hauled him around to the Chinese space station to peep into the window – scared the cr@! out of 'em.

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Pappa51 June 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm

At least our space endeavors are not completely out of business… It would be interestings to see what's in the payload bay when they come back?????
Neat stuff to think about.
Cheers

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socalguy June 19, 2012 at 11:08 pm

I for one am proud to be part of the aerospace/military industrial complex that makes projects like this possible. Having worked on the design of missile systems, radar systems, KKV systems and Space Station, It warms my heart that these programs are still alive and doing well. Those that have never been part of this community will never understand what it is like to be a contributing member of engineers that group.

This is the greatest country on earth. All should be equally proud of accomplishments like these.

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ChipNASA June 21, 2012 at 8:38 am

Hut asked – "My question is why does the ground crew always appear wearing "bunny" Haz-Mat suits?"

I work at NASA and have been at Kennedy and CCAFS and that is probably because of the possibility that this craft used Hydrazine (as do many other craft) as a rocket propellant and there are numerous other nasty chemicals that they use as thrust producers for various craft that are *NASTY*.

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pocket-rocket June 21, 2012 at 11:19 am

Right on,at least I can see my tax dollars well spent. Better than some o-buma solar pannel company blowing it so we will never know where it went.

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asdf June 22, 2012 at 9:02 am

if you ask me, it was probably photographing chinese/ soviet sats.

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Dan July 9, 2012 at 3:54 am

Why do I hear a jet engine winding down?

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Eric November 9, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Chase plane?

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Lee November 9, 2012 at 11:25 am

We Need more spacecraft like these.

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