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USAF's Robotic X-37B Orbiter Launched For Test Flight

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the hope-no-one-fell-asleep-inside dept.

The Military 145

An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt: "The United States Air Force's novel robotic X-37B space plane is tucked inside the bulbous nose cone of an unmanned rocket that blasted off Thursday from Florida on a mission shrouded in secrecy. ... The unmanned military Orbital Test Vehicle 1 (OTV-1) — also known as the X-37B — lifted off at 7:52 pm EDT atop an Atlas 5 rocket on a mission that is expected to take months testing new spacecraft technologies. ... Key objectives of the space plane's first flight include demonstration and validation of guidance, navigation, and control systems – including a 'do-it-itself' autonomous re-entry and landing at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base with neighboring Edwards Air Force Base as a backup."

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frist (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31951702)

suck my dick

Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (-1, Troll)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951850)

I heard that one of the mission for X-37B is to enable the Pentagon a within 2 hour attack vehicle anywhere on earth.

Which means, with X-37B, the United States of America can bomb anyone anywhere within a 2-hour envelop.

Including a nuclear strike.

Hmm...

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (4, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951880)

The first re-usable nuclear missle :-)

X-37 is, like the shuttle, meant to soft-land and be re-used. Nuclear missles are meant to get somewhere really fast and avoid anti-ballistic missles, and blow themselves up. Not really the X-37 mission.

It's for spy satellites, among other things. Nuclear missles can get anywhere in two hours already.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951952)

X-37 is, like the shuttle, meant to soft-land and be re-used

Not only that. Since it's unmanned space vehicle, it's designed to stay in orbit for as long as 300 days.

Which means, within that 300-day envelop, it can travel to any spot on earth in a 2-hour time frame to deliver a neuclear strike.

While existing ICBM definitely can achieve that task, they may be intercepted by anti-ICBM weapons that are already being deployed.

However, there is not that easy intercept the X-37B since it's on orbit all the time.

At least, not yet.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

vbraga (228124) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951998)

However, there is not that easy intercept the X-37B since it's on orbit all the time.

Why not? Unless it has a new kind of radar stealth technology it should be somewhat easy to track since it's launch time is know and a orbit is somewhat easy to propagate.

Most advanced air/space control organizations like NORAD and it's Russian counterpart are tracking every interesting target in orbit already.

It could be intercepted in reentry like a ICBM would or even in orbit by a kinetic device.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952136)

Why not? Unless it has a new kind of radar stealth technology it should be somewhat easy to track since it's launch time is know and a orbit is somewhat easy to propagate.

Of course X-37B can be tracked, just like any satellite. :)

The thing is, X-37B is used as a "missile carrier", not the bomb itself.

So let's say US wants to strike Venezuela the X-37B doesn't have to go to Venezuela. It can launch or "drop" the missile over the Pacific ocean or Atlantic ocean or even over the African continent and the missile, with the help of GPS, would seek out a way to strike Venezuela thousands of miles away.

But of course the Pentagon can choose to manuever the X-37B right over Venezuela and aim the missile straight down, point blank.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (2, Informative)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955068)

But of course the Pentagon can choose to manuever the X-37B right over Venezuela and aim the missile straight down, point blank.

Alas, orbital mechanics don't work that way. To 'drop' a bomb, the entry vehicle would have to apply thrust opposed to its orbital trajectory. This would alter the orbital trajectory until the semi-minor axis of the orbit enters the atmosphere around about where you want your warhead to go. Given the energies and velocities involved (and the need for cooling during aerobraking) this approach path tends to be pretty shallow. Consequently, you have to start your deorbit burn a fair ways out. They'll still see it coming, even if you have freaky high delta-V and take the shorted route to ground.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

fredrik70 (161208) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952174)

doubt that, nukes not allowed in space, don't think russia, et. al. would be too impressed if this turned out to be a nuclear payload delivery mechanism. Anyway, all that just sounds a bit cold war-ish and soooo last century. :-)

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

TwineLogic (1679802) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954394)

Oh, yeah, the cold war is, like, totally over. When was the last time the Russians flew nuclear bombers into Scotland's airspace anyway??
Oh, right, just a couple months ago.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

fredrik70 (161208) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954912)

well, it's far less cold than it used to be, despite the letest rattlings from russia. US and russia now sogned another agreement to get rid of some of their stockpile. I think russia and US are quite-ish happy with the current status quo.
Why shake the bees nest by creating am orbiting nuke? By doing that US basically tells the world it's not giving a damn about the treaties they agrees to and all hell will be breaking lose (russian, china, etc all putting nukes in LEO, seeling nukes to countries that should not have it, etc, etc)
Especially as mentined elsewhere, they already pretty much have this cabability with subs.

They might use it with things like a MOAB is similar but bigger in there, packs quite a punch as well

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

denobug (753200) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954978)

Are you sure the mother Russia didn't have anything "nuclear" up in the space during the Cold War?

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31955758)

They did. A fleet of ship tracking radar satellites got launched using onboard nuclear reactors instead of solar, to allow them to be kept low and not have to rely on batteries while in the Earth's shadow. They're widely regarded as being a stupid thing to have put in orbit because they leak coolant metals and create a vast amount of space debris.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31952526)

An ICBM is a suborbital rocket with a relatively huge payload capacity because it doesn't need to carry its warheads all the way up to orbital speed, and it doesn't have to waste payload mass on landing structure like heatshields and wings. You can carry a hell of a lot more tricks for dodging countermissiles on an ICBM than you can with this toy shuttle's payload bay.
 
If you tried to use this space-UAV to carry a nuke, that's all you'd get. You could fit one nuke into it with no penetration aids, very limited guidance, very limited ability to maneuvre.
 
This machine isn't a bomber, it's a combination of spyplane and sabotage device. Just remember that big engine it carries is going to be easily powerful enough to deorbit an enemy spy sat, destroying it without creating a load of debris that would damage US military satellites in the process.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31952730)

Exactly. The scenario plays out like this:

U.S.: What a nice satellite you've got there, it'd be a shame if anything happened to it.
Them: What satellite? (It's a spy satellite, so they're not going to admit anything of course.)
U.S.: Well, we have other plans for that orbit. And we know it's there. So you should... You know...
Them: Nyuh uh...
U.S.: *Yoink!*
U.S.: Yeah, you were right. There wasn't a satellite there. My bad.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (2, Informative)

TCPhotography (1245814) | more than 4 years ago | (#31953372)

An ICBM is a suborbital rocket with a relatively huge payload capacity because it doesn't need to carry its warheads all the way up to orbital speed, and it doesn't have to waste payload mass on landing structure like heatshields and wings. You can carry a hell of a lot more tricks for dodging countermissiles on an ICBM than you can with this toy shuttle's payload bay.

Wrong. An RV (Re-entry Vehicle) comes in on a mathematically fixed path (that's why it's called a BALLISTIC MISSILE). The minor course correction ability that they have is to improve accuracy. Besides, Even SPARTAN (LIM-49A) and GBI have the range to hit the warhead bus before discharge of the warheads. Plus ICBMs don't have the energy you think they do.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955106)

As a UAV researcher, I like that acronym - Space Unmanned Aerial VEhicle. It's SUAVE!

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (2, Interesting)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954424)

I don't see the logic in this. Existing missles have a delta-V that could reach orbital velocity. That's why their boosters get re-used for civilian missions. If anyone wanted to loiter a missle in orbit, in contravention of the treaty about that, I would imagine that some of the existing MERV systems have that capability. But sitting one in orbit doesn't make it harder to shoot down when it re-enters, because regardless of how well it is stealthed it can be seen - if by no other means, when it occludes a star. Having it in orbit just makes destroying its launch pad irrelevant.

Submarines can go anywhere, and sit there for months, and launch a missle that arrives in 20 minutes rather than 2 hours. If you want to worry about US nuclear capability, worry about that.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31952178)

It's for spy satellites, among other things. Nuclear missles can get anywhere in two hours already.

Exactly. Nukes are a solved problem. But for about 10 years I've wondered what the real-world inspiration was for novelist Dale Brown's ficticious NIRTSats [livejournal.com] (Need It Right This Second Satellites). As soon as the X-37B revival PR hit the blogosphere last month, I had a hunch. I see I'm not alone in my guess; even the timing of the novels and the programme is about right.

I'd have preferred to see the VentureStar take flight (on account of I hate the idea of waiting for hours for an airplane to haul my tourist ass a mere few thousand miles when I know there exist much more elegant - albeit expensive - solutions) but I gotta admit that for this particular sort of mission, robots beat humans. Sweet technology.

More like 45 minutes max (1)

drerwk (695572) | more than 4 years ago | (#31953754)

Orbit at low altitude is about 90 minutes. An ICBM has to go at most half way around the world, so 45 minutes from launch is about the max time you would expect for an ICBM. Montana to Afghanistan is 6,000 miles, or a 22 minute flight; overflight of Russia might be problematic. As pointed out in other posts sub launch to target is less than 10 minutes.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955140)

I think it has to scale to the size of the shuttle, at least the shuttle's cargo bay.

One point that people are missing, the shuttle had mission requirements to be able to deliver big satellites for the military, it also had requirements go up and retrieve satellites for the military.

Neither Orion, Ares, or a Falcon 9 with a Dragon on top can do anything about retrieving a large military satellites the size of the shuttle's cargo bay.

DoD can launch all the satellites it wants on Atlas rockets, but all they can do without the shuttle is de-orbit them.

Like the stealth fighters and spyplanes, the military doesn't stop flying one thing until it can meet those mission requirements with something else.

Also the shuttle had a military requirement to go up, service, install or uninstall a satellite and then return in less than 1 orbit so the Russians couldn't see it. They talked about this ever so briefly on the MIT Aerospace lectures on the Shuttle program. They also said that this functionality was never used. I think it'd be pretty hard to hide a shuttle launch, and with satellites in orbit I think it would be hard to have a launch window/mission the Russians wouldn't know about.

The 9 month on orbit loitering time allows them to use a shuttle sized version of this thing to grab a satellite and land quickly. Couple this with a hardened version of the robot, not the CanadARM, but the actual man shaped telepresence robot for the ISS, and you could do repair missions on-orbit for 9 months without sending up multiple missions and astronauts getting around launch windows, weather delays, fuel tank sensors and every other delay the shuttle is heir to.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (3, Insightful)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952188)

Uhhh, the USA, France, Britain, Russia and China can already drop a nuclear bomb on anyone, anywhere on earth, within about 10 minutes.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (2)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952576)

Uhhh, the USA, France, Britain, Russia and China can already drop a nuclear bomb on anyone, anywhere on earth, within about 10 minutes.

10 minutes ??

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (4, Informative)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952622)

Yup. There is a foreign submarine bearing a nuclear bomb armed missile or three, off your coast right now...

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (4, Funny)

OolimPhon (1120895) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952644)

Yup. There is a foreign submarine bearing a nuclear bomb armed missile or three, off your coast right now...

My country doesn't have a coast, you insensitive clod!

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (4, Insightful)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952666)

Hmm, but many people don't realize why the doomsday clock has been stuck at about 6 minutes to midnight for half a century. Its time is not quite as arbitrary as most would like to hope.

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954132)

We can fix that in, oh, say, ten minutes

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

EvilBudMan (588716) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955214)

How is it going in Switzerland these days?

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (1)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952968)

"There is a foreign submarine bearing a nuclear bomb armed missile or three, off your coast right now..."

F#cking terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.
I say invade!

Re:Anywhere on earth in 2 hours (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31953964)

... and it's probably Israeli.

Error 503 Serice Unavailable (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31951710)

You have insulted Islam! You shall spend the next thousand years fellating Muhammed's Noodly Appendage

foxnews (0, Troll)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951736)

oh no watch all the left wing closest conservatives whip themselfs for daring to read news from fox!

Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (2, Interesting)

TheModelEskimo (968202) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951788)

Is autonomous tech really that difficult now? At the very least couldn't it fall back to remote control? I could swear the Sovs did some work like this back in the 70s.

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (4, Informative)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951826)

Buran flew in 1988. Maybe it was autonomous. And then sat in a warehouse until the building collapsed from lack of maintenance, destroying Buran. I guess this is no worse than spacecraft rusting out in museum parking lots in the U.S.

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (2)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951884)

Aluminum doesn't rust. It corrodes.

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31952008)

Aluminum doesn't rust. It corrodes.

Not exactly - aluminium corrodes briefly, then stops, because the oxide forms a layer protecting the metal below (unless mercury is involved). This is a big difference from iron/steel, where the oxide doesn't form a protective layer.

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31953640)

Aluminum doesn't rust. It corrodes.

Not exactly - aluminium corrodes briefly, then stops, because the oxide forms a layer protecting the metal below (unless mercury is involved). This is a big difference from iron/steel, where the oxide doesn't form a protective layer.

True for pure aluminium but spacecraft are made with aluminium alloys which continue to corrode unless protected.

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955706)

Gee, thanks for ruining my pedantic moment... and yes, I am aware of the various alloys and cladding, and such, and then, if we painted the aircraft, we'd throw on some zinc chromate primer as an added touch...

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (3, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952182)

The only Buran flight was done without a crew, and it was autonomous - the only one to fly was destroyed, but there were another one which was nearly complete which survives, and another three in production, of which two survive. The USSR

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (5, Informative)

toxygen01 (901511) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952500)

The two surviving are OK-GLI [wikipedia.org] and OK-TVA.
The former one was used for atmospherical tests, i.e. it had mounted 4 jet engines (from SU-27) and could take-off and land autonomously.
Out of 25 flights, 14 were completely autonomous including landing.
Last weekend we went to see OK-GLI locate in Speyer in Germany. Photos can be seen here:
on picasa [google.com]

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (1)

BuR4N (512430) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952192)

Burans first and only flight was autonomous in the sens that it was unmanned and landed on auto pilot.

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (3, Funny)

macson_g (1551397) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951932)

Exactly! I took over 20 years for american military scientist to decipher Buran's documentation and clone the technology. This again proves my theory that the cyrylic alphabet is best cipher out there!

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (3, Funny)

TheModelEskimo (968202) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952258)

And undoubtedly it's also the easiest alphabet with which to spell "cyrillic?"

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31952472)

It was no coincidence that the Buran looks exactly like the Space Shuttle. It was a duplicate copy. By the time America figured out where the leak was at NASA, they only had one recourse left. Feed them false information. The glue that holds the tiles on was the Russians undoing. We leaked the wrong information and the tiles fell off during the first landing. It was destroyed when the could come up with a fix.

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (5, Informative)

rxmd (205533) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952528)

It was no coincidence that the Buran looks exactly like the Space Shuttle. It was a duplicate copy.

Actually it was not. The two looked similar because at the time there were only so many ways to build an orbiter, but on the technical level they are pretty fundamentally different. The most important difference is that the Space Shuttle is basically its own rocket, while Buran only had small engines for maneuvering, while launch was done by an Energia booster. Since it did not have to be built around a big engine, Buran is completely different structurally.

As a result, the Buran had a greater payload capacity (theoretical, as it was never tested with a payload) and a better glide number, but you needed a big rocket (theoretically reusable) every time you wanted to launch it. In other words, two fundamentally different approaches to the same technical problem.

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31954088)

You are ignorant of the facts:

1: Buran is a piece of shit, and so is your face.
2: Buran is a blatant and worse copy of Shuttle.
3: It is more expensive and top Rocketbuilder Mr. Mishin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasily_Mishin )did not want to build it because it made no sense. He was right - but no one listened.

http://hedrook.vho.org/library/salah3.htm
(last paragraph starting with bold)

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (2, Insightful)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952404)

Is autonomous tech really that difficult now? At the very least couldn't it fall back to remote control? I could swear the Sovs did some work like this back in the 70s.

Strictly speaking, an artillery shell is autonomous. How impressive the automation is depends on how adaptive it is.

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955114)

Strictly speaking, an artillery shell is autonomous. How impressive the automation is depends on how adaptive it is.

Autonomous literally mean "self governing". Strictly speaking an artillery shell is ballistic, it is not autonomous since it is in no way "self governing".

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31953084)

But not do-it-itself autonomous! I'm sure the next prototype will be all-by-myself look-ma-no-hands autonomous.

Re:Wasn't the Buran autonomous...? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955782)

Is autonomous tech really that difficult now?

No, it's not all that difficult now. However, it's not at the state where you can just hand over a check to the dealer and happily drive it off the lot either.
 
Seriously, when you're talking hardware/systems of this complexity, even though the basic concepts are all worked out, you still need to test the specific implementation.

Air Force testing explosive space modulators? (1)

leftie (667677) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951818)

Marvin the Martian: "At last, after two thousand years of research, the illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator. At last..."

Marvin the Martian: "Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!"

Space without astronauts (4, Interesting)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951844)

Here's the space shuttle we lost, OK at 1/4 scale, but without the triple redundancy because it doesn't have to carry people. It can do the missions.

The future of space, at least in the near term, doesn't look so great for astronauts.

I wonder if it would scale up to shuttle size?

Re:Space without astronauts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31951950)

Probably not, and even if it did, don't we already have those?

Re:Space without astronauts (1)

TheModelEskimo (968202) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952014)

Astronauts belong in elementary schools, urging kids to study science and engineering! (At least until we can get some robots that are more spitball-resistant)

Re:Space without astronauts (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31952028)

Wow.. it's really sad to see the great Bruce Perens spreading "OMG human spaceflight is ending" FUD.

The gap is unfortunate, but its a product of the previous administration, not a choice of the current one. The retirement date for the shuttle? An overdue decision finally made in 2003. The continual redesign of Ares 1 and the Orion capsule? Thank you Mr Griffin. If the simple safe soon replacement vehicle for the shuttle had been funded back in 2003 when it was supposed to be, and not co-opted for Apollo On Foodstamps, then it would be flying by now.. on existing launch vehicles. Instead we got the Constellation train wreck.

So what has this administration decided to do? Close the gap by engaging *multiple* commercial providers. So if one vehicle fails, or retires, NASA can keep flying on another. There will never be a gap again. Basically what they should have done back in 2003 but without the cost plus pork.

In the mean time, NASA astronauts will continue flying to the ISS on the Soyuz.. as nearly every expedition crew member flies to the station now. The only change is that the shuttle won't be taking 6 to 7 people there 3 times a year to do assembly work.. because the station will be complete.

Re:Space without astronauts (1)

Covalent (1001277) | more than 4 years ago | (#31953496)

+1 insightful for the word "multiple". NASA has to be a jack-of-all-trades for space travel right now. Ideally, there would be companies that specialized in various aspects of space travel: Human transport, delicate cargo, rugged cargo, etc. We use different companies for different related services all the time because those companies can optimize for their particular niche (UPS vs. FedEx vs. DHL vs. USPS, etc.) A similar approach should be used for space flight.

Re:Space without astronauts (3, Informative)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952046)

According to Feynman's book on the Shuttle, the only non-automatic procedure for the Space Shuttle reentry is the landing gear command. Why ? Because astronaut required to have at least some actions to do. It could have been handled by computer. In fact, IIRC, it was bypassable by ground control, so that in case all astronauts became unconscious, they could be brought safely back to earth.

Re:Space without astronauts (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31952454)

Nope, there is no way to remotely deploy the landing gear on the shuttle. That is, unless it has been rigged for unmanned flight - known as RCO (Remote Controlled Orbiter) mode - beforehand, using the so called IFM (In-Flight Maintenance)cable. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-3XX#Remote_Control_Orbiter [wikipedia.org]

This wasn't developed until after the Columbia accident. So yes, the Soviets with their unmanned Buran flight were first.

The Reason for not letting the computer control the landing gear deployment is simple: It's a one-way procedure. Once deployed, you cannot retract the gear and close the orbiter's underside - that can only take place on the ground. So, if a computer glitch would deploy the gear before or during the "hot" phase during reentry, there'd be no way to return the craft in one piece, with fatal consequences for the crew if it happened at a point where (re)docking with the ISS and waiting for a rescue shuttle is no longer an option.

You know, folks, sometimes having a human in control isn't all that bad.

Re:Space without astronauts (1)

cshotton (46965) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954110)

Actually the real reason is the pyrotechnics that are used to deploy the landing gear and the drogue chute as well. They both have to be armed and deployed manually by a series of buttons on the glare shield. It has been a long standing rule in manned space flight that anything that can explode on command like that is always operated manually unless it is impossible for some reason. The fact that neither system can be re-stowed after deployment is problematic.

Re:Space without astronauts (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954222)

i can understand the chute, but no hydraulics on the gear?

Re:Space without astronauts (1)

chaim79 (898507) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954796)

I'm guessing here, but I suspect that the difficulty of keeping the hydraulic fluid from freezing, coupled with the hydraulics itself made for too much weight/complexity to the system, so they decided on the deploy-once option.

It's not as if there will be multiple takeoffs and landings between servicing, the system is designed around one takeoff, one landing, service, rinse, and repeat.

Re:Space without astronauts (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954498)

The Reason for not letting the computer control the landing gear deployment is simple: It's a one-way procedure.

I doubt the deployement of the landing gear is the only one-way procedure of re-entry.
I doubt that a human pilot is less susceptible to glitches that a redundant array of 5 (IIRC) computer systems.

You know, folks, sometimes having a human in control isn't all that bad.

You always have the programmer in control. A computer never controls or decide anything. It just follows procedures. Humans are bad at that. In Feynmann's book he tells how the engineers were worried about this human command, exactly because it could fail if deployed at the wrong timing.

Re:Space without astronauts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31955138)

...The Reason for not letting the computer control the landing gear deployment is simple: It's a one-way procedure. Once deployed, you cannot retract the gear and close the orbiter's underside - that can only take place on the ground. So, if a computer glitch would deploy the gear before or during the "hot" phase during reentry, there'd be no way to return the craft in one piece, with fatal consequences for the crew if it happened at a point where (re)docking with the ISS and waiting for a rescue shuttle is no longer an option.

You know, folks, sometimes having a human in control isn't all that bad.

"I thought LGD stood for Later 'Gator Dinner!"

Re:Space without astronauts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31952074)

The future of space, at least in the near term, doesn't look so great for astronauts.

Maybe this will lead to the robotised construction of space stations. A group of these sent up could be programmed to build.

Re:Space without astronauts (1, Funny)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952408)

Heh, or you could go cheap and employ Chineses to do that :
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_921-2 [wikipedia.org]
(China plans a space station for 2012)

Re:Space without astronauts (1)

putaro (235078) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952342)

It doesn't need to scale up that large. The Space Shuttle has a lot of cargo bay plus capacity for up to 7 people for long on-orbit times. What we need at the moment is an Earth->Station->Earth space taxi. Double the size of the X-33 and add 24 hours of life support capacity for 2-3 passengers and you're rocking.

The key thing is to keep going. Actually launching some hardware is an amazing breakthrough given the history of developing spacecraft in the last 20 years or so for the US. Unbelievable boondoggles like the X-33 and then Constellation where hundreds of millions and billions are spent on paper spacecraft that never get built. This is absolutely fantastic.

Re:Space without astronauts (0, Troll)

paganizer (566360) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952762)

I agree, this is fantastic. After Obama's cancellation of our space program....

NOTE: Is anyone else sick, tired and disgusted about the people who disagree that cancellation is what he has done? As I explained to my kids: he says he wants to send a ship to a asteroid, and another to mars; however, he canceled the heavy lifter rocket that would have made either mission possible; What he has actually done is given just enough money to heavy lifter development so that he can deny shutting it down (800 million a year for development), and postponed anything that might require big expenditures until after his current term of office is up. read anything that Neil Armstrong is writing lately; he's as disgusted as i am. .... I'm frakking ecstatic about the x-37b; if it makes it safely back down from orbit, we could have a way to get people and small packages in to space WITHOUT relying on Russia, China or India.
This indicates to me that the U.S. military just might have a shuttle replacement waiting in the wings; I'm not talking "Blackstar" which would be great if it actually existed, I'm talking something with similar capabilities to the shuttle.
If Obama canceled our civilian space program so that the funding can go to the military project, I forgive him.

Re:Space without astronauts (5, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952918)

Constellation wasn't taking astronauts anywhere. It was never going to be built and even if it arrived gift wrapped it would have cost so much that NASA would have to cancel it immediately. The entire thing was designed for a budget that NASA never had. It really was warmed over Apollo, but without the Apollo sized budget.

Hopefully this time NASA will develop a heavy lift vehicle that is actually affordable, or learn to go beyond LEO without it.

Re:Space without astronauts (2, Interesting)

putaro (235078) | more than 4 years ago | (#31953058)

I'm of very mixed feelings on the Constellation cancellation. On one hand, I thought that Constellation was a big loser of a program. Expendable solid rockets? Apollo style capsules? We need cheap access to space, not more aerospace contractor welfare. On the other hand, not having a manned space program sucks pretty badly too. As you said, if Obama cancelled the NASA boondoggle knowing that the Air Force had something better coming along, I would feel much better.

Re:Space without astronauts (5, Insightful)

Shihar (153932) | more than 4 years ago | (#31953428)

Obama did public space flight. It will not be missed. Our dear "socialist" leader also dumped a pile of money into private space flight. Obama didn't kill space flight. He killed a state welfare program and at the same time gave a boost to the people doing real innovative R&D in manned and unmanned lift vehicles in the private sector. This was long LONG over due. Having the US government design and fund a fucking spaceship by committee and legislation makes about as much sense as the US government designing by fucking committee and legislation cars. It is a really dumb idea and Obama did us a favor by killing it. NASA can now focus on stuff that the private sector can't do, namely, raw science. I'm not against NASA, I just want to see them fretting over stuff like how to detect life on another planet or the arcane working of some exotic stellar mass. Stuff that I want commercialized and brought to the public at large on the other hand needs to be kicked off to private industry ASAP.

Re:Space without astronauts (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31954756)

Our dear "socialist" leader also dumped a pile of money into private space flight. Obama didn't kill space flight. He killed a state welfare program ...

I think it is cute that you believe that the President which is systematically demonizing one industry after another in order to create a fig leaf excuse for his administration to seize control is suddenly interested in helping to privatize space technology.

Obama did what he did to NASA in order to weaken the US and make it increasing vulnerable to the whims of other countries. His BS promises of submitting designs for a new launch system five years from now mean nothing.

Re:Space without astronauts (1)

EvilBudMan (588716) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955366)

One thing that bothers me though is the testing facilities not being up yo what NASA already has for manned flight. This where private industry will cut corners until enough space tourists die and end up being more of the same. I guess we shall see if this is a good idea or not. All I'm saying is a least let NASA do some of the testing because they already have the equipment.

Re:Space without astronauts (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954302)

i wonder whats more cost effective, multiple launches with returnable objects, or one big launch with non-returnable parts.

basically, what i am thinking is this. Get a "cargo" module going thats basically a habitat for astronauts, then launch the actual payload and work crew as separate launches. Once the cargo is up there, unless it has a badly decaying orbit, it can wait for the work crew to get up and do their thing.

heck, if the module was transferable, one could maybe even get a safety aspect out of it, if something was to happen to the crew carrying vehicle so that it could not return safely.

Re:Space without astronauts (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954952)

I don't believe this is the correct perspective.

The military has long desired sub-orbital and low orbital satellite capability. Right now, orbital patterns are well known which means its fairly easy to obstruct view during an orbital pass. Moving a satellite requires using precious fuel and analysis to ensure you're not placing it into a path of orbital debris or other objects. And even still, the changes in time allowed by changing its orbit is generally not all that considerable from what I understand.

Enter this vehicle. You can launch it. Keep in in orbit for what, thirty days? It provides for surveillance and potentially a "rod from god" weapon capability which existing satellites current don't provide. And I assume, at the cost of orbital longevity, its extremely maneuverable. And given its lower orbital plane, changing its orbit, I'd guess, means far less potential debris to hit during orbital changes.

You insult Islam! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31951876)

Making me use a proxy to be able to post more often than a Muhammaddamn spammer!

Re:You insult Islam! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31951922)

You mean Allahdamn spammers

robynrihanna (-1, Offtopic)

robynrihanna (1796098) | more than 4 years ago | (#31951970)

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Welcome to Yesterday (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31951972)

The purpose of the X-37 is for several things.

* Spy satellite recapture.
* Spy satellite de-orbit (killing).
* Rapid satellite deployment.
* As a communications platform of Network Centric Ops.
* Look-e-looing.

x

Better weapons than nukes... (2, Interesting)

Sooner Boomer (96864) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952054)

...telephone poles and crowbars from orbit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinetic_bombardment)

Re:Better weapons than nukes... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31952150)

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/21/x37b_secret_launch_options/

Re:Better weapons than nukes... (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952222)

The cost to bring them to orbit in the first place, and then to de-orbit them (in order to allow them to fall on target) is pretty high. Also, this isn't a "surgical strike" capability as the weapon can not "see" the target or communicate too well while falling at multiple times the sound speed.

Re:Better weapons than nukes... (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954328)

autonomous smelters that can grab asteroids and turn them into ammo?

Re:Better weapons than nukes... (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954700)

That's only effective when you need to build some million crowbars, as sending probes anywhere but Low Earth Orbit is very very expensive (and an autonomous smelter would by necessity be huge).

Re:Better weapons than nukes... (1)

ArtemaOne (1300025) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955036)

Hell yeah, this is the start of the Caldari Empire.

I think I heard this one before. (1)

bytesex (112972) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952254)

In other words, they're testing a Buran.

podbay (3, Interesting)

idji (984038) | more than 4 years ago | (#31952386)

Is the podbay big enough to hold Chinese or Russian satellites and bring them back down again? That seems to me what is really going on here - why otherwise would the USAF really care about getting stuff back down again? - they don't need their own satellites back - let them burn up in reentry - they are not collecting particulate matter, and I don't believe they will be going around hoovering up space junk. If the thing can stay up therewith it's solar panels for 270 days, maybe it is just wandering around picking up "rogue" satellites, attaching small engines and letting the satellites deorbit.

Re:podbay (1)

Monty_Lovering (842499) | more than 4 years ago | (#31953858)

As per above AC post;

"* Spy satellite recapture.
* Spy satellite de-orbit (killing).
* Rapid satellite deployment.
* As a communications platform of Network Centric Ops.
* Look-e-looing." ... this is one of its likely roles. It can bring back US assets for service and relaunch; repair or service US assets via spacewalk; launch assets (but not the big spy sats); observe, jam or destroy enemy assets - and all this without any overfly of 'enemy' territory if in polar orbits. It can also do surveilance and launch weapons, but there are far better/cheaper ways of doing this (Tomahawk, U2 etc..).

Re:podbay (2, Interesting)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954240)

I am dubious that this scales if you are trying to clean up orbital garbage. There's a lot. If you are trying to deorbit hostile satellites, they are likely to blow themselves up. Probably all you can do successfully is shoot them. This only makes the debris problem worse.

Re:podbay killer water balloons. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31955600)

If you want to deprive someone of a satellite on the sly, you don't bother with high kinetic gunfire or ASAT missiles, you hit it with a balloon filled with matte black paint at a comparatively low velocity. The satellite's ground controllers, will see a gradual failure from overheating and power loss, additionally possibly glitched optics if present and a little bit of tumble, eliminating high-gain antenna function. Heh.

Re:podbay (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954778)

Well if I was building any type of military satellite I would include a self destruct or anti-tamper device.
The shuttle already had the ability to grab a satellite and showed it a few times with US ones. If you any classified type of device in orbit and you saw a US anything getting close just set it with a proximity / time fuse. Boom..
I am sorry there must have been a fault in that. We had no idea that you would have your shuttle close to it! And why was that BTW?

So that is probably not it's mission.

Re:podbay (1)

idji (984038) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954828)

you're right. they won't be risking baby shuttle getting blown up.

Re:podbay (1)

denobug (753200) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955320)

Ther velocity of the objects raveling in orbits are so high that one little piece of objects colliding to anyting would be disasterous. Cosnidering an unmanned shuttle "releasing" a small, but reasonable size object (like a solid metal ball?) and let it "float" to the desire target. The taret (rogue satellie, for example) will most likely be destroyed upon contact, or as you point out, self-destruct with proximity sensors.

What's with the fairing? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31952460)

Does anyone know what the panels lining the rocket fairing are for?

http://www.foxnews.com/slideshow/scitech/2009/10/22/nasas-secret-space-plane-nears-maiden-voyage?slide=4

Re:What's with the fairing? (1)

DuncanLoomis (1367747) | more than 4 years ago | (#31954098)

Does anyone know what the guy in the blue shirt is for? http://www.foxnews.com/slideshow/scitech/2009/10/22/nasas-secret-space-plane-nears-maiden-voyage?slide=13 [foxnews.com]

Re:What's with the fairing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31954954)

lol!

Re:What's with the fairing? (2, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955864)

Does anyone know what the panels lining the rocket fairing are for?

A variety of things... Insulation (the fairing will get quite hot during ascent) and acoustic dampening (the fairing will vibrate like a drum during ascent as will the payload) being the key ones.

PIcs and video at BBC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31954546)

Meteor over midwestern US last week - coincidence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31955076)

I'm surprised that no conspiracy theorists have jumped on the idea that this mission was to replace the spy satellite that burned up on reentry over the midwest last week!
g=

What is it for? (1)

coolmoose25 (1057210) | more than 4 years ago | (#31955314)

That's the discussion that I want to see here on slashdot. Wild speculation about what it's mission is. Here is my first shot at it:

- High Tech ASAT machine: ASAT tech (ballistic/laser) weapons mounted in the cargo bay. Makes sense except, why do you need it to come back down... cost of laser perhaps?

- Satellite Stealer: Go up, grab enemy satellite, bring it back down. Deprives enemy of the satellite, and lets you figure out how it works so you can perhaps destroy/disable others like it?

- Special Recon: Allows you to do tactical recon that current fleet of satellites can't do - put it in various different orbits to maximize loiter times?

- Prototype for First Space Fighter: Sure, the Russians already did that, sort of... they had a manned spy satellite with a machine gun on it... and fired it in space (but remotely and unmanned). This would potentially be much better - fit the cargo bay with life support and weapons?

So what is your SWAG as to what this is REALLY for?

Re:What is it for? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31955848)

Special Recon:. The X-37 has a on orbit delta-V of 3.3km/s so it can basically add 14,000km of cross range any time it wants to on orbit, in a orbital period, literally showing up unexpected, over anywhere on the _entire_ planet.

ASAT: possibly, but probably not a primary or even secondary mission. Would not be too hard to upgrade one of the many exoatmospheric ABM interceptors for taking on higher targets when dropped from the X-37s bay. Or carry stealthy slow missiles with black spray paint, to induce premature failure in enemy satellites.

Satellite Stealer: Not at all likely. Most military satellites are equipped with self destruct charges ranging from simple ruination to catastrophic explosion.

Antipodal bomber: Highly Likely. Drops guided conventional warhead reentry vehicle onto high value or fleeting targets. anywhere in the world 80 minutes or less. Multiple vehicles can lower time dramatically to below 10 minutes.

Not stuck with NASA: Fly more frequently for test and research purposes, almost on demand as long as you have a booster. No having to dance around civil payload manifests.

Survivable, Reliable, Evasive Orbital Observation/Mapping/Recon/Communications.
Immense delta-V and cross range reduces vulnerability to enemy ASAT weapons, allows for flying of high investment radar and optical telescopes that you can bring home and reuse, cheaper than the big KH spy satellites. Use saved money on perks for Officer clubs.

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