Speaking of NASA’s ancient, secretive WB-57Fs carrying high-tech BACN radio translators, Bryan William Jones reminds us that he spotted one of the jets at Nellis outside Las Vegas four years ago.
Archived posts with tag ‘NASA’
They’re 49 years old, ugly and owned by NASA, not the Pentagon. But two modified WB-57F Canberras are now among America’s most important warplanes. With anonymous-looking white paint jobs, the Canberras have been taking turns deploying to Afghanistan carrying a high-tech new radio translator designed to connect pretty much any fighter, bomber, spy plane and ground radio to, well, pretty much any other fighter, bomber spy plane and ground radio. That makes the former Air Force reconnaissance planes, originally transferred to the space agency for science missions, essential hubs of the American-led war effort.
The past and future of America’s space arsenal intersected, briefly, in the summer of 2011. For two weeks in July, NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis roughly shared its Earth orbit with the Air Force’s X-37B, a 29-foot-long, highly maneuverable robotic spacecraft that entered service in early 2010 and has been cloaked in secrecy ever since. The X-37 was around 80 miles higher than the Shuttle, so it’s doubtful the four-person Atlantis crew, conducting the 135th and last Shuttle mission, ever saw the robotic craft. The X-37′s small size — barely a quarter the length of Atlantis — made a sighting even less likely.
China is just days away from launching an ambitious rival to the International Space Station, pictured above. A rocket launch carrying an unmanned test module named Tiangong 1 — literally, “Heavenly Palace 1” — is scheduled for this week. Allegedly, the 8.5-ton Tiangong 1 module is designed to practice autonomous rendezvous ops in orbit, in order to prep for a manned space base around 2020. But China-watchers and space specialists are trying to figure out if there’s an additional agenda for the Heavenly Palace.
Two months after the final flight of Space Shuttle, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration finally has a plan to replace the troubled winged spacecraft, two of which crashed, killing a total of 14 astronauts. On Sept. 14, NASA boss Charles Bolden unveiled the design of the agency’s Space Launch System, a new heavy rocket slated for a 2017 debut.
When the Space Shuttle flew its 135th and final mission in July and retired without a direct replacement, some critics accused Washington of abandoning America’s 50-year orbital legacy. The Telegraph even called it a “retreat.”
After 30 years and 135 missions, it’s curtains for NASA’s Space Shuttle. The Shuttle Atlantis blasted off on Friday for one last rendezvous with the International Space Station, bringing to an end the current era of impressive — but pricey and dangerous — manned spaceflight. But never fear! America’s space arsenal might be down four giant Shuttles, but there’s still plenty of U.S. government hardware orbiting the Earth, much of it top secret.
After a long delay, on May 24, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration finally unveiled its plan for human spaceflight, once the 30-year-old space shuttle program ends in July.
Combat Aircraft: A Star is Reborn
It was a particularly promising bit of technology during an unusually optimistic era for space exploration. In the mid-1990s, Orbital Sciences’ X-34 reusable, robotic space plane — designed to boost into near-orbit by way of an organic, single-stage rocket engine then glide to a runway landing — promised to help make space access faster, cheaper and more flexible. It was just one of several U.S. military and NASA projects exploring single-stage-to-orbit technologies and reusable spacecraft.
It was an explosive event — literally and metaphorically. At 8:43 AM local time on Wednesday, a Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Launch Complex 40 at the Air Force’s Cape Canaveral “space base” in Florida. The two-stage Falcon — built by SpaceX, a California company owned by PayPal founder Elon Musk — deposited several payloads into low orbit and, three hours later, reduced to its “Dragon” capsule, reentered the atmosphere and splashed into the Pacific. It was the first time in six decades of space exploration that a privately-built spacecraft has left and returned to Earth.
The aviation and space press buzzed last week with the news that NASA had quietly moved its two long-grounded X-34 space planes from open storage at the space agency’s Dryden center — located on Edwards Air Force Base in California — to a test pilot school in the Mojave Desert. At the desert facility, the mid-’90s-vintage, robotic X-34s would be inspected to determine if they were capable of flying again. It seemed that NASA was eying a dramatic return to the business of fast, cheap space access using a reusable, airplane-style vehicle — something the Air Force has enthusiastically embraced with its mysterious X-37B spacecraft.
Axeghanistan ’10: Moon Shot
Chilling in Ramstein, Germany, awaiting a flight to Afghanistan, who do we run into but Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, plus a bunch of other aerospace legends visiting airmen at Ramstein. Cernan took a few minutes to chat with us about the present and future of spaceflight.