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US Air Force Launches Secret Flying Twinkie

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the that's-one-big-twinkie dept.

The Military 234

Spectrummag writes "One of the most secretive US Air Force spaceflights in decades, launched this month, is keeping aficionados guessing as to the nature of the secret. The 6000-kilogram, 8-meter X-37B, nicknamed the flying Twinkie because of its stubby-winged shape, is supposed to orbit Earth for several weeks, maneuver in orbit, then glide home. What's it for? Space expert James Oberg tracks the possibilities."

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I'll say it... (4, Funny)

Skyshadow (508) | more than 4 years ago | (#32087920)

"That's a big twinkie..."

Re:I'll say it... (2, Funny)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#32087942)

from the thats-one-big-twinkie dept.

I think the editors beat you to it.

Re:I'll say it... (2, Interesting)

Skyshadow (508) | more than 4 years ago | (#32087982)

Except Taco misquoted Ghostbusters. I wasn't going to point it out.

What up bitch? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32087966)

Yo, which of ya cracka's has da balls mod down a nigga?

Re:I'll say it... (0, Offtopic)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 4 years ago | (#32087988)

Where's da' Creme Filling?

Re:I'll say it... (3, Informative)

MonsterTrimble (1205334) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088162)

From IMDB [imdb.com] :

Dr. Egon Spengler: I'm worried, Ray. It's getting crowded in there and all my data points to something big on the horizon.
Winston Zeddemore: What do you mean, big?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Well, let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. Based on this morning's sample, it would be a Twinkie... thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.
Winston Zeddemore: That's a big Twinkie.

Re:I'll say it... (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088346)

That's the second biggest twinkie I've ever seen!

Re:I'll say it... (2, Funny)

Coren22 (1625475) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088440)

That's what she said?

Re:I'll say it... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089132)

"That's a big twinkie..."

Not only that - "Twinkie defense" just got a whole new meaning with this...

Re:I'll say it... (1)

penguin_dance (536599) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089214)

If it fails, will they take the Twinkie Defense [wikipedia.org] ?

They know about the only way (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#32087922)

Well, obviously it's to nuke the site from orbit, you know why. Then again, They might just want us to think that. They always do...

Re:They know about the only way (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32088680)

Achievement Unlocked:
Dana Ripley

Doubly Relevant Sigourney Weaver Ref

Obligatory.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32087926)

60000 kilograms & 8 meters long? That's a big Twinkie

If it's a Twinkie... (3, Funny)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 4 years ago | (#32087936)

...it should be able to remain in orbit indefinitely without deteriorating.

Re:If it's a Twinkie... (1, Funny)

dskzero (960168) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088106)

...it should be able to remain in orbit indefinitely without deteriorating.

No, it won't. http://www.snopes.com/food/ingredient/twinkies.asp [snopes.com]

Re:If it's a Twinkie... (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088460)

"It's a joke--I say, it's a joke, son!"

Re:If it's a Twinkie... (1)

dskzero (960168) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088752)

Ditto.

Re:If it's a Twinkie... (1)

M8e (1008767) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089266)

Which is pokémon #132?

Re:If it's a Twinkie... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32088736)

The one they're putting into orbit is just the prototype. We're fielding an Interstellar Twinkie spurting cream filling where ever he goes.

Re:If it's a Twinkie... (1)

gclef (96311) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089248)

As someone who's actually eaten a stale twinkie (in the name of science!), it won't deteriorate, but it will get kinda gummy...

Nasa should reclaim this (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#32087972)

What this is is an experimental spacecraft that NASA gave up, and should reclaim in my opinion. Turning this into a manned flight precursor would be a good way for President Obama to regain status in the astronaut community.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088098)

No. Reusable has been shown to be a money pit and failed too much. It was expensive for the US, it was expensive for the Soviets.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (4, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088190)

Yet reusables have proven to be the way to go with every other form of transport. Or, to put it another way, it's a really bad idea to draw sweeping universal conclusions based on a first generation system.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (3, Informative)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088372)

X-15 and Dynasoar were first generation reusable.

Shuttle and Buran were second generation.

Yes, reusable have proven to be the way to go, but other forms of transport aren't going 17,500 miles an hour, getting up to 5,000 degrees and going millions of miles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-109 [wikipedia.org] - 3.9 million miles
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-80 [wikipedia.org] - 7 million miles

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (2, Insightful)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088586)

Yes, reusable have proven to be the way to go, but other forms of transport aren't going 17,500 miles an hour, getting up to 5,000 degrees and going millions of miles.

Being harder isn't an excuse unto itself. Supersonic jets are more difficult than subsonic jets, which are more difficult than prop airplanes, which in turn are more difficult cars, trains, and bicycles. Yet somehow, we have managed up until now, yet I'm certain the same argument has been made throughout history that the next step couldn't be made.

The issue isn't with the reusable portion of the reusable spacecraft, but with its non-reusable parts. Thermal tiles, booster rockets, etc. As well, with the added weight, for which spacecraft are more severely punished than airplanes.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (2, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089054)

Supersonic jets are more difficult than subsonic jets

Interestingly, the useful speed limit of supersonic jets seems to have been exceeded decades ago, and they've abandoned the fastest designs. The B-58, B-70, SR-71, B-1A and Concorde are all defunct and have not been replaced with anything nearly as fast. They've given up. There are a few fast manned fighter planes, but the emphasis today is on gas mileage, not pure speed, and manned fighters may be on the way out in general.

Sometimes certain gee-whiz technologies just really don't turn out to be practical in the real world.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (2, Insightful)

jimwelch (309748) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089220)

have not been replaced with anything nearly as fast

That is just what THEY want you to think!

Thanks for playing,

Mr Tin Foil
maker of hats.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (5, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088798)

X-15 and Dynasoar were first generation reusable.

One that wasn't an orbital craft, and one that never flew at all. So, no, they aren't first generation craft in any useful sense.
 

Yes, reusable have proven to be the way to go, but other forms of transport aren't going 17,500 miles an hour, getting up to 5,000 degrees and going millions of miles.

Ok, so what? The shuttle goes fast and far, doesn't mean there cannot be a reusable orbital craft. Not to mention that 99.99999% of the 'far' is spent in almost no stress drifting around. It's nearly meaningless, even though it sounds impressive to the uneducated.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088818)

Yes, reusable have proven to be the way to go, but ... going millions of miles.

Exactly! I tried it out with my boxers but they got really smelly!

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089258)

Yet reusables have proven to be the way to go with every other form of transport.

Articulated arms/legs/fins were the way to move, yet manned inorganic transport didn't work until the Wheel.

Also all flying animals did the flapping wing thing, airplanes were never successful until that was given up.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (2, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088538)

Right. Money pit.

That't why Scaled Composites http://scaled.com/ [scaled.com] and Virgin Galactic http://www.virgingalactic.com/ [virgingalactic.com] are all betting money on re-entry vehicles.

Come on guy! Just because government projects do not have a profit motive does not mean it can never be workable.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (2, Informative)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088746)

Is Virgin Galactic SS1 going into orbit?

No.

Is Virgin Galactic SS2 going to go 3 million miles a mission and reach 17,500 miles an hour?

No.

SS2 is a VW T2 Microbus to the Shuttle/Buran being Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4s

SS2 will reach 2600 mph and 68 miles for up to 10 minutes of weightlessness
Shuttle reaches 17,580 mph and up to 385 miles for up to 17 days

Apples and grapes.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (2, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088936)

You have to start somewhere.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089282)

No. Reusable has been shown to be a money pit and failed too much. It was expensive for the US, it was expensive for the Soviets.

Um, you can't make statements like that based on 2 data points utilizing technology from 30 years ago. The X-37B's requirements are quite a bit simpler (e.g. don't have to carry 50,000 pounds to orbit, don't need extreme crossrange capability, don't need to carry humans, etc.) than the Shuttle or Soviet Buran, and technology has progressed quite a bit since the 1970s. Heck, I'll just paste from Boeing's fact-sheet:

http://www.boeing.com/defense-space/ic/sis/x37b_otv/x37b_otv.html [boeing.com]

The X-37B is one of the world's newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft. Designed to operate in low-earth orbit, 110 to 500 miles above the Earth at a nominal speed of about 17,500 miles per hour, the vehicle is the first since the Space Shuttle with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis.

Because the X-37B can be returned to Earth, reused, and is designed to be highly flexible and maneuverable, its contributions to space exploration will result in making space access more routine, affordable and responsive.

The X-37B features many elements that mark a first in space use. The X-37B is one-fourth the size of the Space Shuttle, and relies upon the same family of lifting body design. It also features a similar landing profile. The vehicle was built using lighter composite structures, rather than traditional aluminum. A new generation of high-temperature wing leading-edge tiles will also debut on the X-37B. These toughened uni-piece fibrous refractory oxidation-resistant ceramic (TUFROC) tiles replace the carbon carbon wing leading edge segments on the Space Shuttle. The X-37B will also use toughened uni-piece fibrous insulation (TUFI) impregnated silica tiles, which are significantly more durable than the first generation tiles used by the Space Shuttle. Advanced conformal reusable insulation (CRI) blankets are used for the first time on the X-37B.

All avionics on the X-37B are designed to automate all de-orbit and landing functions. Additionally, there are no hydraulics onboard the X-37B; flight controls and brakes use electromechanical actuation.

The on-orbit duration of the X-37B will vary based upon mission requirements, but has the ability to perform missions lasting up to 270 days.

The objectives of the first flight are to demonstrate that the X-37B is able to conduct long-duration operations, and to enable scientists to understand the long-term effects on system components, such as the structure and future payloads. The successful first flight will include achieving orbit, de-orbiting, and safely landing at the primary return location, Vandenberg Air Force Base, or Edwards Air Force Base, if necessary.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (2, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088478)

I doubt this has anything at all to do with NASA, and NASA is in no position to reclaim anything from military projects.

This system is built on designs for flight test prototypes developed when the shuttle was being designed, and refined thereafter.

TFA says: "The official description of the mission talks of demonstrating "a rapid-turnaround airborne test bed." That makes sense, but there is no sign that anyone plans to fly the vehicle ever again" which is pure utter nonsense. You don't build a lander to fly once.

The article also suggests it will attempt never before attempted things such as automated approach and landing. Stuff the Russians demonstrated with SnowStorm. [russianspaceweb.com] along with the automated rendezvous which Russian cargo launches have been doing for years.

This is the Air Forces access to payload deployment and return. There is no point in making it landable if all you need is delivery with no return.

This is the prototype of Predator Drone of space, and/or instantly deployable Command and Control platforms, with plausible dependability.

Ex-craniate folks, the Air Force does not intend to allow sat-killers go un-challenged when so much of US military operations rely on space based coms and control.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (2, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088722)

Because the X-37 is a NASA program and the X-37b started out as a NASA program.That is why there are pictures of it on Google images.

Trust me, real secret military spacecraft you learn about 20 years later.

Re:Nasa should reclaim this (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088878)

Its been 20 (or 30) years.

QED.

Politics 101 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32089108)

What this is is an experimental spacecraft that NASA gave up, and should reclaim in my opinion. Turning this into a manned flight precursor would be a good way for President Obama to regain status in the astronaut community.

Hi, welcome to Politics 101. Pop quiz: of the two statements below, which one will fly through Congress, and which one will fall like a dog turd:

* President requests $10 billion in additional funding for new Air Force project to help secure the skies above our brave troops and protect this great nation from terrorists

- or -

* President requests $10 billion in additional funding for new NASA project for the peaceful exploration of space and expansion of human understanding about our planet and its environment

Only one of these two fly, pick the winner.

Recover, Repair, Refuel Satellites (2, Interesting)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088016)

A scaled up version of this could replace capabilities that the shuttle provided to the military.

Sure they launch sats on rockets now, but they can't do any of the maintenance with a rocket. Also is folks listened to the MIT lectures on building the shuttle, they mentioned that the engines in the shuttle wouldn't have to be torn down and rebuilt between flights if the electronics were built onto the engine such the engines could be tested without removing them.

I'm sure there are other what if style improvements that the shuttle built from blueprints could benefit from in the age of CAD that would aid in the rapid turnaround of any new vehicle designed with the Twinkie's test data.

Re:Recover, Repair, Refuel Satellites (5, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088494)

Also is folks listened to the MIT lectures on building the shuttle, they mentioned that the engines in the shuttle wouldn't have to be torn down and rebuilt between flights if the electronics were built onto the engine such the engines could be tested without removing them.

That's relevant to the things that electronics can test for. (A very small subset of the things that are tested/inspected on and SSME.) Not to mention that if such things were truly practical (electronics substituting for inspection and/or teardown), commercial aviation would be using it for jet engines.
 
Not to mention that they haven't removed the engines after every flight for over fifteen years, and haven't rebuilt them every time they're removed for over a decade.
 

I'm sure there are other what if style improvements that the shuttle built from blueprints could benefit from in the age of CAD that would aid in the rapid turnaround of any new vehicle designed with the Twinkie's test data.

This vehicle's (single flight) test data is roughly meaningless compared to the thirty years of flight experience for the Shuttle itself. Seriously, the Shuttle's problems don't stem from lack of CAD. CAD is just a fancy version of Microsoft Paint - you still need the engineering information behind the design. Without that information it doesn't matter if you use chisels on stone tablets or the latest engineering workstation.
 
There lies the key problem with the Shuttle, lack of funding, lack of basic technology research, lack of engineering development, and a healthy helping of excess ambition on the part of NASA and successive Congresses and Administrations. The Shuttle went wrong when those three collectively decided not to expand on the groundwork laid by the X-15 and the various lifting body projects in favor of Buck Rogers stunts.

Re:Recover, Repair, Refuel Satellites (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088800)

>they mentioned that the engines in the shuttle wouldn't have to be torn down and rebuilt between flights if the electronics were built onto the engine such the engines could be tested without removing them.

Getting into space is about as extreme an environment as any mechanism is likely to face.

As long as teams in the NHRA have to dissassemble and reassemble their engines bewteen races, NASA will likely have to do the same.

Re:Recover, Repair, Refuel Satellites (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088978)

Most military satellites are in a circum-polar orbit. Launched from Vandenberg AFB.
Possibly a supply and retrieval vehicle for the ISS. Military does not give data about its operations. however, watching the sky might reveal something. Whether it returns before the next shuttle launch (if there is one) should be one tell tale (if announced). Since it will return to Vandenberg or Edwards there is no telling.

Speculation in the article (4, Insightful)

Skyshadow (508) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088024)

So the article speculates that this is a testbed for on-orbit threat detection systems, which given the number of countries getting into the space gig seems like a reasonable thing to be working on.

So here's why bit I don't get: Why build it into a space plane rather than a regular satellite? Seems to me that you're adding an order of magnitude to the complexity of the mission -- do they really need the sensors back that badly, or is this maybe for something else?

Re:Speculation in the article (3, Informative)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088110)

Some more speculation from the Register based on the same reasons that the shuttle had such large wings, this gives it cross-range capability to launch and return in a singular polar orbit.

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

Re:Speculation in the article (1)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088410)

It's an interesting idea, but I fail to see how they might the slightest chance of maintaining the secrecy element of the single polar orbit mission profile proposed in the article. You are going to have a huge light trail visible across half of Florida whenever they have a launch at Canaveral followed by a flurry of activity at Vandenberg when they recover it afterward, or whichever launch/recovery sites they use. It's hardly going to take much in the way of intelligence smarts to put those two observations together with "one of our satellites just went dark" and work out what probably went down.

Of course, maybe plausible deniability is enough, or they are going to use a non-observable recovery site; launches from Vandenberg and recoveries at Diego Garcia perhaps?

Re:Speculation in the article (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088748)

If you always have 1-5 of these guys in the 'air' at any one time, there's your plausible deniability. If the flights are routine enough, it's no longer out of the ordinary to launch a kill vehicle, since it's otherwise identical to the other (non-military or weaponized) launches.

Re:Speculation in the article (1)

dziban303 (540095) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089160)

In this launch profile, the mission is launched from Vandenberg and then recovered there as well, thus the need for "cross-range" capability and thus the need for wings. I guess you didn't read the article.

Re:Speculation in the article (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089310)

"one of our satellites just went dark" and work out what probably went down.

Maybe you have the wrong "our". What if one of our broken fancy-sats were going to deorbit over a particularly inconvenient location?

Re:Speculation in the article (4, Interesting)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088562)

I'd actually think that something like this would be ideal to TAKE OUT a satellite, or a satellite interceptor.

A polar orbit means that its relative velocity would be large compared to any less inclined orbit.

Ability to launch and return in a single polar orbit means that it would be hard to shoot down - it would have to fly right over an enemy launch site to do so since they wouldn't spot it until it was entering their airspace and there would be no time to vector an interception from elsewhere. You only have a few minutes to launch even if you happen to have an ASAT missile right on its flight path (which obviously the US would avoid anyway when they put it into orbit).

So, the USAF identifies a bunch of satellites they want to shoot down, then they put this thing into orbit which parks interceptors in polar orbits that will hit each of the targets. Then it re-enters and returns to base.

Another option is recon - this thing could be launched at any inclination to get to any point in the earth quickly and then be able to return to base more quickly with cross-range capability.

Those are just some wild guesses. Wings do give you options - no sense having them unless your mission demands them.

Re:Speculation in the article (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088658)

Single orbit?

Even the prototype is planned to fly for weeks.

Payload in orbit with cross range re-entry capability allows for retrieval of payload. Or DELIVERY of payload.

With a fleet of these, a few would always be within range is to almost any land mass on earth, on less than an hour's notice.

After all, if you can put the wheels on the hash marks at the end of any runway, you could also but the entire vehicle through any given window of any given building.

Re:Speculation in the article (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32089118)

Right delivery of payload.

FTA: The thing has a cargo bay the size of a pickup truck bed.

That is a pretty big cargo bay for a space plane. Conveniently big I say. Fun fact: a pickup truck bed is the right size for converting into a short term shark tank. Done all the time. A shark plus enough water to sustain it for about a day fits neatly into a pickup truck bed.

Another fun fact: Sharks can live in space. Only inside earth's gravitational atmosphere do they require near constant immersion in water.

Everybody here jokes about sharks with lasers and such, but you don't even need to fit one with a laser for this application. Satellites are totally defenseless against the natural offensive endowments of a shark. Its like no one designing satellites ever even thought about it, which is why it is so perfect. Bombs and lasers and such yes but not sharks. Add in the fact that an orbiting shark cannot be detected by any known means and you have the perfect space weapon!

Re:Speculation in the article (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089166)

Just tell it to stay the hell away from the moon. That's WHALE turf now.

Re:Speculation in the article (5, Interesting)

God'sDuck (837829) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088246)

My logic (against a rival spacefaring nation): If you build it on a satellite, a strategically deployed paint fleck can render you defenseless until you can arrange for another satellite and launcher. Make a satellite maneuverable enough to dodge strategically deployed paint flecks and the fuel requirements may make your satellite huge and/or short lived. Put it on a space plane and you can dodge all you want, and just relaunch as needed if you don't dodge well enough.
 
My logic (against rogue states): if you build it on a geostationary satellite and guess wrong as to where the next threat is coming from, you now need another satellite. If you build it on a network of satellites, you need the whole bloody network to not have blind spots. If you build it on space planes, you just fly them over whomever is the rogue of the moment.
 
My logic (against the UN): satellites are subject to international treaties regarding the weaponizing of space. Planes-that-work-like-satellites are less so.

Re:Speculation in the article (5, Interesting)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088578)

he craft is supposed to orbit Earth for several weeks, maneuver in orbit, and glide its way to a landing strip at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California

Really this just sounds like a fancier version of the SR-71/U-2 spyplane. Spy satellite are great things and can photograph pretty much anything given a long enough period of time; the problem is they're only going to be over the exact patch of dirt you're interested in perhaps once a week, and it might be cloudy (or night time!) when that happens.
 
Enter the spy plane. The U-2 and SR-71 (and A-12, but that was discontinued in the 60's) are designed to get "now" pics without having to wait. Call up Bobby Hill AFB in California or Hank Hill AFB in Virginia and in 8 hours you can get an up to date photograph of exactly what's going on anywhere in the world.
 
Now imagine you combine the two. The availability and speed of a spy plane, but the international benefit of staying out of of your enemy's airspace. Plus, due to the momentum it has, it stays in orbit for weeks, so after you buzz Moscow, you can do a course correction to your flying twinkie and hit up St. Petersburg, Beijing, Pyongyang, or Tehran to see where the weapons shipments are headed. Course corrections cost a lot of fuel for a satellite, which will be in orbit for years or decades, but course correction fuel on a reusable satellite that will only be up for a matter of weeks is cheap.
 
Also it's a lot harder to hit a new sattelite with an unknown and changing orbit. The chinese have proven that they can knock a U-2 flying at 90,000ft out of the air [google.com] .

Flying Twinkie? (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088086)

I wonder what they’re calling it behind closed doors, though?

Re:Flying Twinkie? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32088300)

I'll take a guess:

Radar Operator: Colonel, you better have a look at this radar. Colonel: What is it, son? Radar Operator: I don't know, sir, but it looks like a giant... Jet Pilot: Dick. Dick, take a look out of starboard. Co-Pilot: Oh my God, it looks like a huge... Bird-Watching Woman: Pecker. Bird-Watching Man: [raising binoculars] Ooh, Where? Bird-Watching Woman: Over there. What sort of bird is that? Wait, it's not a woodpecker, it looks like someone's... Army Sergeant: Privates. We have reports of an unidentified flying object. It has a long, smooth shaft, complete with... Baseball Umpire: Two balls. [looking up from game] Baseball Umpire: What is that. It looks just like an enormous... Chinese Teacher: Wang. pay attention. Wang: I was distracted by that giant flying... Musician: Willie. Willie: Yeah? Musician: What's that? Willie: [squints] Well, that looks like a huge... Colonel: Johnson. Radar Operator: Yes, sir? Colonel: Get on the horn to British Intelligence and let them know about this.

Two Words... (4, Funny)

Bodhammer (559311) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088094)

Black Mesa

Re:Two Words... (5, Funny)

Warhawke (1312723) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088350)

That was a joke. Haha. Fat chance.

Re:Two Words... (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088432)

FarScape.

What the X-37 is REALLY doing in orbit... (3, Interesting)

JohnMurtari (829882) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088128)

This is just conjecture. On a 'big' war day we are going to want to disable enemy satellites. We have ground based interceptors -- but there can be delays in launch windows, plus the 'bad' guys are going to be on guard and can take some evasive actions.

How about our little X-37 with a cargo bay and manipulator arm goes and pays those 'nasty' satellites a visit right now and attaches a few pounds of high explosive with a radio detonator. When the war starts you push a button and they all disappear!

Just in case they send a maintenance flight up, our little bomblets can also be equipped with a radio controlled 'spring' that detaches them from the satellite. No one is the wiser.

Possible?

Re:What the X-37 is REALLY doing in orbit... (4, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088334)

few pounds? a single hand grenade would take out any satellite. Imparting the energy from a single grenade or even a C4 charge will spin it out of control that the bird will never recover from.

you don't have to destroy it, just make it useless.

Re:What the X-37 is REALLY doing in orbit... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32088352)

I imagine the russians and maybe the chinese would both notice an object going from sat to sat to sat.

Re:What the X-37 is REALLY doing in orbit... (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088394)

Possible?

No not really.

Besides its not like it would need high explosives. Squirting some water on the satellites would cause some interesting damage that would be hard to track down.

Re:What the X-37 is REALLY doing in orbit... (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088672)

Or, more efficiently, a small cloud of undetectable debris, released on a colission course from an alternate orbit to impart a sufficiently large relative velocity. Make the orbit suitably eliptic and any debris that misses would burn up in the atmosphere within several orbits, and you can avoid collateral damage.

Re:What the X-37 is REALLY doing in orbit... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32088400)

Or..., attach something that can futz with the function of the bird. Killing it outright certainly removes an asset from enemy hands, but turning that asset can, under certain conditions, be even more valuable.

Bah... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32088424)

I have good inside information they carry large amounts of water... capable of maintaining a shark with a laser. So what if the inside information is coming from the voices inside my head. It's still inside.

Re:What the X-37 is REALLY doing in orbit... (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088714)

Why an arm? Too slow.

Regular gun fire from a nose cannon or radar controlled short range rocket would do as well. Sats are thin skinned vehicles.

Re:What the X-37 is REALLY doing in orbit... (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089264)

Sats are thin skinned vehicles.

Says who?

Re:What the X-37 is REALLY doing in orbit... (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089366)

Launch capabilities.
Armor is expensive to lift.

Doesn't matter. Kinetic energy tearing thru a sat destabilize it and disables it.

We've already seen what happens
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123438921888374497.html [wsj.com]

Re:What the X-37 is REALLY doing in orbit... (2, Interesting)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088854)

That seems like a stretch of capabilities considering that enemy satellites don't exactly have open, 'insert here,' interfaces on them where you could easily mount something like that. If the X-37 is going to be used for space militarization, I imagine it is much less about blowing things up and far more about interfacing with things on orbit. The X-37 has a decently sized cargo bay and a manipulator arm. It may well be capable of snagging certain classes of enemy satellites for reverse engineering. It also could probably be used for some sort of autonomous repair/maintenance of friendly satellites which is a field that is currently being researched significantly for both civilian and military purposes. Also, if the X-37 turns out to be fairly cheap and easy to reuse (like the space shuttle was supposed to be) it may become a good deployment mechanism for small scale recon sats in a hot environment. If it can sit on orbit for multiple weeks with a cargo bay full of five or so small orbital cameras, it could deploy those cameras when and where necessary to track enemy movement.

Then again, this is all just conjecture on my part. It may be something as simple as the air force wanting the ability fly up to a Chinese satellite and poke it inappropriately hard with the manipulator arm to break its camera or send it spinning uncontrollably out of its intended orbit.

Three things (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088158)

1. A robotic platform for working on, refueling, repairing and monitoring satellites, like Tekfactory talked out.
2. On station orbital weapons platform
3. Electronic warfare system for monitoring foreign satellites and disabling them.

Re:Three things (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089204)

1. a. No need for a refueling ship to have to return, repair?
          b. Maybe but it would have to be cheaper to launch this, bring back the satellite, repair it, and relaunch than to just replace with a new and probably better model. Plus will it be faster? Can you live with that bird out of service that long?
          c. Monitoring? Maybe but why a return capability?
3. We already have Sigint and Commint satellites so an EW version is not to far fetched but why a return capability?

I think number two is the right answer.
Put some Rods from God in the cargo bay and park it in orbit for a few months at a time. If you don't need them you bring them home to re launch.
You want the bring home because frankly you wouldn't want them to just fall out of the sky... Maybe over a friendly city?
 

Re:Three things (2)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089368)

A KH-12 costs about 1.4 billion (at least) to build and launch, and are big enough that only Shuttle could bring them back, so refueling would be a good option there.

I really think this is an on orbit weapons platform, maybe a system that could be tasked with Rods from God and/or ASAT systems.

Hmm... (1)

masterwit (1800118) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088170)

Personally if I were an alien, a "Flying Twinkie" would make me want to visit a planet...

We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet

-Steven Hawking

Or maybe this giant Twinkie IS the protection against the satellites: the delicious-decoy.

put to the test systems that enable satellites to protect themselves from enemy attack

//yes I am being sarcastic

The Flying Twinkie? (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088224)

I thought that was Lindsey Graham's nick name!

Look up there! It looks like... (5, Funny)

djdbass (1037730) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088258)

Radar Operator: Colonel, you better have a look at this radar.
Colonel: What is it, son?
Radar Operator: I don't know, sir, but it looks like a giant...
Jet Pilot: Dick. Dick, take a look out of starboard.
Co-Pilot: Oh my God, it looks like a huge...
Bird-Watching Woman: Pecker.
Bird-Watching Man: [raising binoculars] Ooh, Where?
Bird-Watching Woman: Over there. What sort of bird is that? Wait, it's not a woodpecker, it looks like someone's...
Army Sergeant: Privates. We have reports of an unidentified flying object. It has a long, smooth shaft, complete with...
Baseball Umpire: Two balls.
[looking up from game]
Baseball Umpire: What is that. It looks just like an enormous...
Chinese Teacher: Wang. pay attention.
Wang: I was distracted by that giant flying...
Musician: Willie.
Willie: Yeah?
Musician: What's that?
Willie: [squints] Well, that looks like a huge...
Colonel: Johnson.
Radar Operator: Yes, sir?
Colonel: Get on the horn to British Intelligence and let them know about this.

ssto (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32088306)

its would make sense if they were close to single stage to orbit vehicle

but that's more like wishful thinking

Re:ssto (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088542)

SSTO is kind of a dumb idea, because in all configurations it involves dragging heavy, spent boost motors around with you while you maneuver in space on limited fuel.

But invent a booster that is 100% fuel and consumes its structure as it burns and you might have something.

The only thing for certain... (1)

TheStatsMan (1763322) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088354)

That's no moon. It's a cream-filled space station.

It's a Nazi space bomber, no really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32088360)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silbervogel [wikipedia.org]

You know what happens to remarkable enemy scientists at the end of a war? They "defect".

Secretive? (1)

ChinggisK (1133009) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088368)

I question the 'one of the most secretive' part of TFS based on the fact that this is posted on Slashdot. /tinfoilhat

That's no twinkie... (1)

commodore73 (967172) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088512)

It's a space station. (Ben Kenobi)

Sat Scooper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32088540)

Why not just scoop the enemy satellite up and bring it home. Or, scoop our own satellite up and bring it home if threatened.

Is it just me? (1)

rthille (8526) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088564)

Or does 6000 Kg annoy other people? Shouldn't that be 6 Mg?

Re:Is it just me? (3, Funny)

ThinkThis (912378) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088874)

I was thinking 6,000,000,000 mg myself.

Re:Is it just me? (1)

canajin56 (660655) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088998)

No, it's just you.

Re:Is it just me? (1)

Neon Aardvark (967388) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089308)

No it's not just him, 6 metric tons is more natural way to mentally picture this mass.

Zombieland IX (0, Offtopic)

bobcat7677 (561727) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088574)

Tallahassee, having exhausted every supply of twinkies on the earth, goes to Cape Canaveral and hot-wires a space shuttle to go after the big twinkie he saw in the sky. "The gang" goes with him. They find Buzz Aldrin (who has creative zombie killing genius only rivaled by Tallahassee) to pilot the shuttle. Columbus and Witchita get to make out in space. Zombies hitch a ride with them and have to be killed. They make a "pitstop" at the ISS, which has more zombies that have to be killed. And the "big twinkie in the sky" turns out to just be a lame USAF space plane experiment with no twinkies on board but is full of more zombies to be killed.

Re:Zombieland IX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32089296)

You make it sound like an awesome movie.

Re:Zombieland IX (1)

iprefermuffins (1460233) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089304)

A Buzz Aldrin cameo would be enough to sell me on any comedy.

!nerds (1)

ciaohound (118419) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088576)

It's obviously Thunderbird 2. You can all leave your geek cards at the door on your way out.

Some one was hungry... (1)

fredcai (1015417) | more than 4 years ago | (#32088872)

Old news. It launched two weeks ago and disappeared going Mach 20 (ish). The atmosphere apparently has a sweet tooth. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/04/27/darpa-loses-contact-with-mach-20-hypersonic-glider-during-test-flight/ [discovermagazine.com]

Wrong test. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32089180)

You're thinking of the hypersonic test aircraft. This is the X-37B. Completely different projects.

You were right about it being old news, considering the launch was almost two weeks ago and the story was a pre-launch piece, and you were on the right planet, at least.

Welcome! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32088932)

I, for one, welcome our new delicious, creme filled orbiting overlord.

Article written before launch; more details (5, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089074)

First off, while the article is a good one, it was actually written before launch. After the launch, there have been some intriguing details, particularly the fact that NOBODY outside of the classified world has been able to actually locate it in the sky. Normally amateur skywatchers are pretty good at locating satellites after they've launched, but apparently not in this case. Here's two possible explanations for this:

* the X-37B is testing low-visibility features, possibly either a stealthy payload shroud, low-visibility solar panels, or some other sort of camouflage/stealth system
* One possibility posited by Jim Oberg (the article author) elsewhere is that this may be the first test ever of an atmospheric orbital plane change, a technique desired since the 90s or earlier, where a spaceplane uses its wings to dip into the atmosphere while travelling at hypersonic speeds to alter its trajectory. The X-37B apparently doesn't have a high enough L/D ratio to perform an extreme plane change (e.g. near-equatorial to polar), but it may be able to alter its trajectory enough to make it damn hard to track from the ground.

Now, some people have been asking why a reusable spaceplane would be useful to the US Air Force. Some possibilities:
* The atmospheric plane change capability mentioned above, which would allow the Air Force to deploy satellites into trajectories unknown by those observed. One major problem with satellites is that other countries typically know when they'll be overhead, so they just make sure that anything they're trying to hide doesn't occur during those hours.
* If you add a retrieval arm or some other docking interface, you can potentially use the craft to alter the trajectory of existing satellites
* Although the X-37B was launched on an expendable Atlas V rocket, the Air Force recently put out a solicitation for proposals [hobbyspace.com] for a first-stage Reusable Booster System utilizing a technique known as boost-back. With boost-back, after the booster boosts the payload and/or 2nd stage, it then does a 180 and boosts/glides back to a landing strip so that it can be easily reused. Lockheed Martin tested a secretive prototype of such a system (which they dubbed "Revolver") a couple years ago. If you combine such Reusable Boosters with a beefier successor to the X-37B, you have a rapid-launch reusable "surge" capability long desired by the Air Force. Such a surge capability could be useful when you need to quickly launch many satellites, such as when you need to deploy many satellites over a particular region in wartime or many of your satellites are knocked out by anti-satellite weapons or solar storms. Currently the Air Force has to wait for several weeks or months per satellite.

For anybody interested in watching video of the launch (a rather beautiful launch of the Atlas V rocket), you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdCpuv9RCwE [youtube.com]

Also, for those who are interested in finding out more, there's a lot of good discussion with plenty of current and former space professionals (including some posts by Jim Oberg, the author of the submission article) over at this NASASpaceFlight.com thread on the X-37B: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=21122.285 [nasaspaceflight.com]

Secret... (1)

dominious (1077089) | more than 4 years ago | (#32089136)

One of the most secretive US Air Force spaceflights in decades

wow I wonder if 1 billion of /.ers can keep a secret...besides we don't have any friends to tell, do we?

Here's what I think (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32089236)

The spacecraft has multiple modes of operation. In one mode there exists an android that gets its ride in the payload bay. Through tele-presence this android can do tasks such as boarding and dismantling other satellites in LEO. Repair and refueling is another option. Another mode is having optics in the payload bay, this is useful if the military needs a spy satellite in a new orbit and with a quick turn-around. Some missions may be so secret that relaying encrypted information back via the satellite relay network is not allowed and data is stored on-board until the craft lands on american soil. Another use for it is possibly to test new propulsion techniques. This is just what I think, not what I think to know.

-p

They are entertaining... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32089292)

Remember that wormhole that opened up a few months back over Europe?
Yeah, well they are sending some deliveries to the aliens, humans dressed up in semi-transparent latex clown outfits fighting to the death.
They all drew straws and NASA lost.

Nobody will be the wiser either since pretty much everybody lapped up the "it was a rocket" excuse.
It's always those damned stray rockets, eh, running amok without caring about their masters orders.

What it's for: the secret revealed! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32089322)

It's for orbiting Earth for several weeks, maneuvering in orbit, and then gliding home!

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