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.
Archived posts with tag ‘X-37’
The Air Force’s mysterious X-37B “space plane” is only on its second, eight-month-plus orbital mission, ostensibly conducting science experiments. But manufacturer Boeing has already drawn up plans for a major upgrade to the nimble, 29-foot-long robot — one that could more than double the vehicle’s size and make room for up to six astronauts.
The Air Force has news for anyone looking for sinister motives behind the flying branch’s latest orbital gizmo: the mysterious, high-tech X-37B space plane. The 29-foot-long robotic shuttle — vaguely labeled a “test asset” by the Pentagon — returned to earth on Friday after 224 days, nine hours and 24 minutes in space. In those eight months, observers speculated that the X-37 might be a prototype bomber, a satellite-snatching snoop or a speedy, quick-reacting sensor platform. Forget it, Richard McKinney, Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs, said Monday. “I applaud the ingenuity and innovation of some reports, but really it’s as described. This is a test vehicle, pure and simple.”
After 225 days in orbit the Air Force’s mysterious X-37B space plane touched down today at 1:16 am local time at a purpose-built airstrip at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. It was only the second fully-automated re-entry and runway landing in the history of space flight. The Soviets achieved the first in 1988 with the robotic prototype of their Buran Space Shuttle clone.
It was a space launch to change the world. On January 11, 2007, a solid-fuelled rocket lifted off from Xichang Space Center in central China, a non-explosive “kill vehicle” fitted to its tip. Five hundred miles above the earth, the now-separated kill vehicle struck an 8-year-old Chinese weather satellite, pulverizing it and leaving behind a cloud of some 1,000 large pieces of debris.
The new space craft’s launch occurred without much fanfare. On April 22, the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B prototype roared into orbit atop a rocket launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Some 15 years in development, the X-37′s technology, performance and purpose all are cloaked in mystery. Two months after the unmanned vehicle’s launch, it is still in orbit, performing its unspecified tasks behind the military’s veil of silence and ambiguity. That has caused concern among potential rivals of the U.S.