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X-37B Found By Amateur Sky Watchers

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the eye-in-the-sky dept.

Space 109

otter42 writes "It seems that X-37B couldn't stay hidden forever. Launched a few weeks ago, The Flying Twinkie disappeared shortly after separation. Now it has been found in an orbit that takes it as far north as 40 degrees latitude. No additional information has been found about the spacecraft's capabilities or purpose, except for a US Air Force statement that the satellite has no space-weapons purpose. The X-37B is intended to fly for 9 months at a time, opening the door to possible space longevity experiments in addition to its spying tasks."

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Space weapons.. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32313548)

It might not have space weapons, but it's cloaking device sure failed.

Re:Space weapons.. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32314550)

want to see it?
go to www.heavens-above.com
for times/magnitude/etc.

From the NYTimes Article (1)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 4 years ago | (#32318618)

> “If a bunch of amateurs can find it,” Mr. Weedon said, “so can our adversaries.”

True for some of our adversaries, but not all. Ten or fifteen years ago there was a big hubbub in DC when a web site or two went up to track our spy satellite launches. Pre-internet, it was generally just a few big governments who had the resources to track them. But with the amateur community helping, suddenly anyone with a web browser could get some idea of when satellite coverage would be available for a given area. This is one of a very few areas of government operations where I tend to favor secrecy. Not for the money spent--knowing within an order of magnitude how much we're spending on a massive defense program is important if we are to retain any civilian control over the military-industrial complex--but for the actual launches and orbits.

We compromise intelligence assets when we do anything else, and that can mean our leaders are making decision with even worse information. Those decisions cost lives.

Re:Space weapons.. (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315730)

Since we're talking about a flying twinkie here, isn't is more of an wrapping device?

Re:Space weapons.. (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 4 years ago | (#32318904)

You can't miss it. It says Hostess on the heat shield.

--

Better bread spacecraft.

Re:Space weapons.. (1)

gamecrusader (1684024) | more than 4 years ago | (#32316872)

at least china hasn't shot it down yet

Re:Space weapons.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32319330)

In Soviet Russia, Lying Twinkie fools you.

Oh really? (5, Insightful)

ringmaster1982 (1817772) | more than 4 years ago | (#32313584)

"in addition to its spying tasks." What tasks are these? Please elaborate, for the sake of accuracy of course.

Re:Oh really? (4, Funny)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 4 years ago | (#32313630)

Rendezvous with alien spaceships of course.

Re:Oh really? (1)

sv_libertarian (1317837) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314742)

Of course they wait until Mulder and Scully retire...

Re:Oh really? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32313824)

Hooking up with your mom!

Re:Oh really? (1)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314660)

"The craft is the manifestation of the Air Force's long-held, on-and-off again dream to operate its own space plane."

Re:Oh really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32317710)

they could use it for the CIA use it for assasinations a hyperkentic munition and take out the leaders of china for example, drop a rock from there then blame it on a astroid unluckly hittng their leader would be hard to prove the U.S. had anything to do with it, it could drop a balistic missile and strike anywhere in the world without warning.

Re:Oh really? (2, Interesting)

MoralHazard (447833) | more than 4 years ago | (#32323276)

Dropping a rock from space isn't as straightforward of an idea as it sounds. Apologies to the Jerry Pournelle fans out there, but there are some problems that significantly reduce the cool factor.

First of all, drop the perception that each "rod" is a cheap, unpowered, purely-kinetic weapon, because the orbital physics don't allow it. De-orbiting an object (in a stable orbit, anyway) is not a free manuever, it costs thrust and therefore fuel burn to "slow" itself down so it drops out of orbit. Usually, the object is moving at a really high velocity--in LEO, it's at least 30,000 kph, maybe more. De-orbiting quickly (within minutes) means generating a large amount of force over a fairly short time interval. Given current technology, that means a rocket engine.

So each "rod" is basically just a missile launched from orbit. Instead of using thrust to against earth's gravity, the rocket thrusts against its own orbital inertia, which is *enormous* in LEO. Yes, after a certain point, the falling object becomes purely kinetic, but that doesn't change the fact that the weapon is basically an ICBM with a kinetic warhead instead of a nuclear warhead. The rocket engine could be somewhat smaller than an ICBM's, but still big enough to be a significant launch weight expense in the first place.

Second problem: The potential energy delta from LEO to the surface of the earth isn't big enough to accelerate the rod to hypersonic velocity, taking re-entry drag into consideration. You'd get a bigger explosion from dropping a MOAB, but at 1000x the delivery postage. You could raise the launcher's orbit, which increases the impact velocity, but which also enormously increases the delay between your lauch order and weapon impact. LEO is around 400 km from the surface, but geosync is somewhere above 30,000 km. De-orbiting could take hours, unless you hugely increase the power of the re-entry rocket, which means upscaling the size, weight, and expense per shot.

Finally, there's a non-phyics problem that wasn't even really an issue back when Pournelle came up with his original ideas: The politics of the "weapons of mass destruction" label. WMD is a sloppy-shit term that will get applied *instantly* by IR commentators and the press to any weapons system that has destructive power closer to a small nuclear bomb (~500+ t) than a MOAB (~10t). The fact that this isn't a nuclear weapon, or a chem/bio agent, will be totally irrelevant, because very few of the interested parties will know the difference. All that Joe Public (or Mohammed Al-Public, overseas) will understand is that the US has invented another unstoppable, super-technology killing machine.

So if your Rods from God are less powerful than a small tactical nuke, each shot would need to be cheaper than delivering an equivalent load of conventional ordnance--call if 10-50x MOABs. I seriously doubt that the economics would work in your favor, here, because boosting shit into orbit is insanely expensive, while big bombs are relatively cheap to make and drop.

On the other hand, if your Rods from God are as powerful or more powerful than a small tactical nuke, they become unusable on the battlefield because of the political costs. And it the Rods program is relegated to only being a strategic deterrent, it had better be cheaper than ICBMs/SLBMs. Again, I really doubt that the economics will work in your favor, for the same reasons.

Remarkable (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32313622)

I find it amazing they've created a spaceship that can stay up in the sky for up to 9 months at a time.

The article notes that "The X-37B can stay aloft for as long as nine months because it deploys solar panels for power, unlike the space shuttle."

I...doubt it's the solar panels alone which allow it to stay up there so long. Although, if it runs primarily on solar energy I'm frankly stunned at how powerful solar panels are. Arguably since they're getting pure sunlight rather than atmosphere diffused sunlight it's probably stronger, but still.

Also the reason I doubt the solar panels are the primary reason is due to the fact that the shuttles needed to add in a lot more weight for food/water which caused it to use more fuel plus be limited to how much food/water they could get up there. Even at best, I doubt the shuttle could've held enough food and water to last more than a month.

But yeah, the reduction in fuel weight is good to hear. If they're testing ion drives on it, this would be the most amazing real spaceship I've ever heard of.

Re:Remarkable (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32313636)

"I find it amazing they've created a spaceship that can stay up in the sky for up to 9 months at a time."

Really? There are craft up there that will stay thousands of years.

Re:Remarkable (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32313664)

And most of them are powered by solar arrays (though that's not what's keeping them up there)

Re:Remarkable (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315644)

It seems like they could be though - solar panels could generate lift via a tether.

Re:Remarkable (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32313674)

Really? There are craft up there that will stay thousands of years.

That's like saying we shouldn't be impressed by subs being underwater for months because of all those shipwrecks doing it for centuries.

Re:Remarkable (4, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 4 years ago | (#32313904)

Not really - put a space craft into the correct orbit and it will stay there until its systems fail. Longevity is not really a new thing introduced by the X-37B, its been a staple of geostationary satellites for decades.

Re:Remarkable (5, Informative)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314220)

But this thing is a very low earth orbit sattellite. It has a very fast shifting orbit, and it has much more athmospheric drag (though, granted, still not all that much). The orbit is "close" (certainly in space terms), low-latency, but a bit of a bitch to navigate in.

If we could deploy 100 of these quickly and cheaply we could have fast broadband with tiny latencies everywhere on the planet, from New York to Antarctica (worst case you'd need a roof antenna, and given performance of iridium handsets that's not necessary except in highrises in city centers). Since you have clear line of sight to just about any location on the planet, very high bandwidth applications are within the realm of possibility. Inter-satellite links can use the exact same technology used on fibers (except for the need to aim them), and thus COTS components will get you an inter-sattellite bandwith of 160 Gbit per transmitter, with no real limits on the number of transmitters.

This is the one technology that truly has the potential of getting high-bandwidth links into outlying rural areas.

LEO and this type of technology could be the future of the internet. Unstoppable, unfilterable, available anywhere and anytime (because of the possibility of having extreme directionality in the tranceivers, the only real option you have is taking out the satellite, you can't even find who's using this internet connection. Iran and other countries' censorship would be thoroughly fucked), usable with cola can sized devices costing $150 able to link up to playboy online right under the nose of Ahmadinejad. Able to tell any Chinese what happened at Tiananmen, and provide that same porn to increase the customer base.

Re:Remarkable (4, Insightful)

mikael_j (106439) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314250)

An all-wireless internet is not "the future" no matter how many times the "omg it has noe wiers!!!1" crowd say it is.

Show me a stable 10 Gbps transatlantic connection using satellites that requires little to no maintenance and which doesn't risk randomly interfering with other links (or being interfered with by other links) and I'll believe it's getting close. Until then fiber is still king no matter how much some people scream about "wireless!!1" like it's the second coming of christ.

Re:Remarkable (1)

H3g3m0n (642800) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314554)

There is a point at which bandwidth becomes pointless. If you have a low latency system that has enough bandwidth to display HD videos for example, you no longer need to download movies, you can just watch them. The same can be applied to your entire computer desktop. Of course resolutions will be increasing and so on but so will the technologies.

That system might not be here yet, but it will be eventually. I doubt it will be in orbit due to the latency (even low latency is too much), but radio travels as fast as fiber and lasers are wireless too and won't interfere. Actually an advanced system of lasers might work much better than fiber, you don't have to lay the cables and you can just keep adding beams and receptors, just need a simple deployable system, like wifi except with multiple lasers that automatically locate receptors in range (maybe with some 2ndary radio system for the general direction) and aim a beam towards them.

In addition to that, there are many low bandwidth/low latency applications. Imagine giving all the villages/people in Africa cheap solar $5 OLPC style computers with built in internet access without needing a hub, server or whatever. They might not be able to do anything more than basic web browsing but that would be a huge revolution. They dropped a computer into an Indian village, came back a few months later and all the children now spoke English.

Re:Remarkable (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315032)

I see, so instead of simply lying fiber and dealing with last mile how is appropriate for given area...you would like to see "wireless fiber", with lasers travelling through the air (coordinated in some magical way between moving users (going inside is useless, everybody can get used to little rain, snow and cold) and satellites), and all this at nice a cost of, say, trillions of dollars.

So we can transmit one HD video.

Re:Remarkable (2, Insightful)

GrumblyStuff (870046) | more than 4 years ago | (#32316400)

Actually an advanced system of lasers might work much better than fiber....

Sshyeah. All you'd need is some way around weather patterns and LOS issues. Maybe you could set up some towers and fire the lasers through a glass medium so that they're undisturbed by local weather conditions....

But seriously, I'm on wireless and it's got a looooonnnggggg ways to go before replacing wires and fiber.

Re:Remarkable (4, Interesting)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314266)

But this thing is a very low earth orbit sattellite. It has a very fast shifting orbit, and it has much more athmospheric drag (though, granted, still not all that much). The orbit is "close" (certainly in space terms), low-latency, but a bit of a bitch to navigate in.

The International Space Station has a standard orbit of between 181 miles and 189 miles and only needs a boost a few times a year, while the X-37B was spotted at 255 miles up where the atmopshere is significantly thinner - 9 month longevity should not be hard to achieve, especially as the X-37B includes the ability to boost its orbit.

Re:Remarkable (4, Informative)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314980)

What? Somebody still believes the fairytale that satellite access can be better & cheaper (and less wasteful...) from cables and cellular towers? O_o

In case you didn't notice, the business plan for Iridium was:
- go in deep debt building ridiculously overpriced communication network, valuable to few customers with much influence (military)
- go bankrupt
- debts dissapear
- rely on profits from said customers with much influence

Plus Iridium orbit is not much higher than this thing does now; 100 vs 70 satelllites also doesn't make much difference.

Re:Remarkable (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 4 years ago | (#32321294)

You do realise transatlantic and transpacific cable have basically the same business model, right ? They've gone broke at least 5 times in the last 10 years or so.

Besides, even intra-US fiber is not exactly a goldmine of profits for their owners.

Re:Remarkable (5, Insightful)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 4 years ago | (#32313676)

I find it amazing they've created a spaceship that can stay up in the sky for up to 9 months at a time.

How's that? There are no humans to feed or otherwise keep comfortable and alive. Small craft, electronics for spying, stable orbit. Sounds like it could stay up longer if needed.

Re:Remarkable (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314618)

"How's that? There are no humans to feed or otherwise keep comfortable and alive. Small craft, electronics for spying, stable orbit. Sounds like it could stay up longer if needed."

Yet another demonstration of why remote-manned space systems offer far greater ROI than carrying expensive tourists.

Re:Remarkable (2, Insightful)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#32318150)

Spacecraft without human pilots aren't good PR.

    "Look what we did, we sent these guys to ...." is a much bigger sensation than "Look at the chunk of metal we sent up."

    From the PR standpoint, the ISS is a big deal, because there are people on it. There's little interest in the almost 1,000 operational satellites [ucsusa.org] floating around above us.

    No one would care if Glonass 712 fell out of orbit. It would make a blurb on the news, and that would be the end of it. Now, if the ISS were to suddenly and uncontrollably deorbit, that would be international news for months or years.

Re:Remarkable (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314988)

Hello....this is the government, do you really expect them to give the real data on orbital longevity? Duh.
This platform is nothing more than a RCS fuel tank with interchangeable payload bay. Highly maneuverable, more so than the permanent spy satellites. As for being weaponless, return to base, change out the payload, relaunch, target, boom.

Re:Remarkable (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315764)

I'm afraid that save for arming it with a nuke, it would be a terrible waste of money. Anything else can be deployed from the surface for much less $$$.

Re:Remarkable (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32322348)

it would be a terrible waste of money.

When has the government been known to do anything economically? Remember, an elephant is a mouse with government design specifications.

Re:Remarkable (1)

Steauengeglase (512315) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315846)

They don't want the warranty to expire.

Re:Remarkable (5, Informative)

bcmm (768152) | more than 4 years ago | (#32313686)

I...doubt it's the solar panels alone which allow it to stay up there so long. Although, if it runs primarily on solar energy I'm frankly stunned at how powerful solar panels are. Arguably since they're getting pure sunlight rather than atmosphere diffused sunlight it's probably stronger, but still.

It isn't using solar panels for propulsion. It needs hardly any propulsion, once it's in orbit, since it will naturally tend to stay in its orbit, "flying" by its own momentum (though it will use a bit to counteract the tiny atmospheric resistance that exists even at that altitude). The panels allow it to go on long missions not by keeping it in the sky, but by giving it power to run its computers, comms, and its payload, assuming the payload uses electricity. This avoids the expense of launching very large batteries.

Re:Remarkable (1)

init100 (915886) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314086)

though it will use a bit to counteract the tiny atmospheric resistance that exists even at that altitude

I'd say that it probably doesn't have to use any fuel for that. The ISS is at a similar altitude, and it is boosted to a higher altitude a few times a year, but the ISS is intended to stay in orbit for a long time. Since the X-37B is only intended to stay up for nine months, it is possible that it does not need any boosting. Besides, it is also possible that it can minimize the drag by using a certain attitude profile, such as pointing the nose forwards. If horizontal w.r.t. the ground (inverted or not), it might even be able to use its wings to counteract the aerodynamic resistance, like a glider.

Re:Remarkable (1)

ari_j (90255) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314780)

It does take some fuel to maintain an attitude, and using wings to generate lift also increases drag, so that doesn't really work out so well. The ISS's orbit is boosted by its main engines or by a docked spacecraft. Fortunately, it doesn't take much acceleration to maintain the low Earth orbit that these things live in, so a little bit of fuel can go a long way, but it does take some.

Re:Remarkable (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314870)

Gliders don't use their wings to counteract the aerodynamic resistance, quite the contrary (somewhat; directed in a specific way). Fall all the time, and are way below the Karman line.

Re:Remarkable (4, Informative)

bcmm (768152) | more than 4 years ago | (#32313746)

Forgot to mention that the ISS has been continually powered by solar panels since 1998.

Re:Remarkable (1)

TorKlingberg (599697) | more than 4 years ago | (#32316796)

Forgot to mention that the ISS has been continually powered by solar panels since 1998.

The propulsion is not solar powered. On GOCE [wikipedia.org] of the other hand, it is. It is only 270 km (170 mi) up where the atmosphere is relatively thick and it will stay up for 20 months.

Re:Remarkable (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314816)

Shuttle can have only short mission because it depends on fuel cells simply for powering ("keeping alive", up there) its systems; actually, it has a possibility to "steal" this power from ISS and prolong it's mission...a bit.

But several months alone is nowhere near impressive. Almost every damn spacecraft did at least that, "spacecraft"/"spaceship" not being somehow more real if it looks like the popular depiction of "spaceplane" - the latter (and hence X-37B) are actually very poor all around "real spaceships". Built primarily with atmospheric phase of the flight in mind; which might make sense for military LEO vehicle, and not much else.

Re:Remarkable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32314982)

is impressive for what this thing is. a space fighter drone. armed with weapons it should be able to kill any satellite it likes for 9 months. and completely dominate space with high bandwidth links to the ground for targetting data. it can also latch on to any satellite it likes and intercept feeds/add remote relays. everyone should be really scared of this thing. it makes space war practical even if the first one is unarmed.
a fighter plane. in space. controlled from the ground. welcome to battlestar galactica. next up will be heavy bombers in space. and then space destroyers. and space carriers. the russians and chinese are no doubt scrambling for their own space fighter drones right now.

Re:Remarkable (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315120)

But that would not make it more "real spaceship"; just another contribution to the immense waste of US defense (nice newspeak) industry.

And it makes space warfare nowhere near practical. Weaponising LEO is moronic. At first sight of it, any entity which thinks it can "lose" will simply launch few dumb rockets with millions of ball bearings, triggering Kessler syndrome.

Re:Remarkable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32315482)

sticking giant lasers on 747s to shoot down ballistic missiles is moronic too. doesnt mean it isnt going to be done. how are you going to ball bearing the entirety of LEO ? its really big and ball bearings can be tracked and avoided with radar. this thing has large engines to move from leo to meo if it needs to. it will be highly maneuverable and well armed. plus they can build hundreds if they need to and keep them up only a week or two rather than 9 months.

Re:Remarkable (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32318696)

Yeah, yeah, you will always have the rights & means to shutdown any rocket launch, heh...

You underestimate what millions of objects on erratic orbits would do. And it doeasn't have to be strictly metal ball bearings...or not ball bearing at all. Might as well be some fairly undetectable material, it doesn't matter - at those impact speeds, mass is the only thing that matters, any solid matter behaving like liquid anyway. Well, and this one type of spacecraft might have a chance at escaping, sometimes, quickly wasting practically all its fuel to do so; well, mission accomplished.

Fuck yeah, America!

Re:Remarkable (1)

Iron Condor (964856) | more than 4 years ago | (#32320022)

r. this thing has large engines to move from leo to meo if it needs to.

That's an understatement.

With a delta-v of 3.3, this thing can go to the moon, if needed. (Won't come back, though).

Re:Remarkable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32315294)

I'm pretty sure this should be marked as "funny."

"Satellite"? (1, Informative)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 4 years ago | (#32313698)

Does this spacecraft [wikipedia.org] look like a satellite to you?

Re:"Satellite"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32313812)

No, they look Dalek.

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32313936)

Not when it is sitting on the ground.

Being in orbit changes things.

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

Annorax (242484) | more than 4 years ago | (#32313938)

Looks more like a mini space shuttle to me.

Maybe it collects defunct satellites and brings them back for repair..

Re:"Satellite"? (2, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314054)

Maybe it collects defunct satellites and brings them back for repair..

Actually, it has a a robotic arm, so the X37B can be used to repair and refuel satellites in orbit. I'm not sure I believe the USAF when it says it has absolutely no space weapons purpose, however.

Re:"Satellite"? (2, Funny)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314310)

It's meant to go up there, find a similarly-designed Chinese satellite, and play the world's most expensive and ostentatious game of Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots.

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

M8e (1008767) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314466)

It's a grappler ship! [wikipedia.org]

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#32316992)

> I'm not sure I believe the USAF when it says it has absolutely no space
> weapons purpose, however.

It's rather small for a weapons platform.

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

wampus (1932) | more than 4 years ago | (#32317064)

O RLY? [wikipedia.org]

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 4 years ago | (#32319534)

Someone else already pointed out the Davy Crockett, but as a matter of fact, no, no I don't. Even a suitcase-sized nuke could take out an entire city.

Shutellite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32313980)

FTFA> The X-37B can stay aloft for as long as nine months because it deploys solar panels for power, unlike the space shuttle.

I don't know if it looks like a satellite, it definitely quacks like one and moves like one. Twinkie is not only a Shuttle Lite, it's also a shuttelite.

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314094)

It has doors that can open, thus it can deploy a unique set of payloads on every flight.
From expensive sensors to really really secret sensors as needed per mission.
The sat killer units will wait until the US faces a real war.

Re:"Satellite"? (4, Insightful)

fizzup (788545) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314228)

Satellite. I do not think that word means [wikipedia.org] what you think it means.

Does this [wikipedia.org] look like a satellite to you? Does this [wikipedia.org] ? What would have to change about the X-37B to make you think it's a satellite, anyway? Put it in orbit? Well, you can check that off your list, because it's already there.

Re:"Satellite"? (1, Informative)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314504)


Does this look like a satellite to you? Does this?

Yes, and yes.


What would have to change about the X-37B to make you think it's a satellite, anyway?

Maybe take the wings off, and make it non-reusable? Would you consider the space shuttle a "satellite" in any conventional sense of the word? I realize that a satellite is anything that orbits the earth, but you're missing the point here. The GP is implying that this is something MORE than a satellite.

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#32316704)

Would you consider the space shuttle a "satellite" in any conventional sense of the word?

Yes, of course I would. Why on earth (or in low earth orbit for that matter) wouldn't you?

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 4 years ago | (#32317708)


Yes, of course I would. Why on earth (or in low earth orbit for that matter) wouldn't you?

Because I realize words aren't just things we all look up in the dictionary and that's the "right answer". Words are defined by usage, and dictionaries are always incomplete. If you asked the vast majority of people whether the space shuttle is a satellite or not, they'd say "No! It's a space ship". That's why I don't think it's at best confusing to use the word "satellite" for the space shuttle, or for this thing.

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#32317896)

If you ask the vast majority of people to give a general idea of how orbit works, they wouldn't even be able to do that.

Opinions of the general uninformed public does not override well defined technical definitions [wikipedia.org] (satellite = object in orbit) in technical discussions (slashdot).

Besides, this thing, unlike the space shuttle, stays in orbits for very long periods of time, is unmanned, and apparently regularly goes in orbits generally not used for manned space flight. Saying that it is "not a satellite" simply because it has wings and can re-enter the atmosphere is very silly. If you really wanted to, for whatever reason, differentiate between "space ships" and "satellites", this would still be far more a "satellite" than a "spaceship".

If anything, it should still be called a satellite in common media so that the otherwise uninformed public is given a clearer idea of what it is and how it operates.

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 4 years ago | (#32319410)


Opinions of the general uninformed public does not override well defined technical definitions (satellite = object in orbit) in technical discussions (slashdot).

This is a technical discussion? I thought it was a discussion forum.

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#32319442)

*looks up at the top of the webpage and notes the "News for nerds" logo.*

Yes, on slashdot we generally engage in technical discussion. Sufficiently technical anyways that redefining "satellite" to exclude things with wings just because we feel like it is very silly. If you can't handle this, then you should go back to digg.

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#32318264)

> Words are defined by usage

An excellent reason to discourage misuse.

> If you asked the vast majority of people whether the space shuttle is a
> satellite or not, they'd say "No! It's a space ship".

Which, while it is in orbit, is a type of satellite.

Re:"Satellite"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32315400)

"...don't change the subject, just answer the fucking question."

-Stephen

Re:"Satellite"? (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315056)

Does this spacecraft look like a satellite to you?

Yeah, one that can return with all kinds of goodies.

Re:"Satellite"? (2, Insightful)

aix tom (902140) | more than 4 years ago | (#32317168)

Satellite:
1) man-made equipment that orbits around the earth or the moon
2) any celestial body orbiting around a planet or star

Why, yes, it does, once it is on orbit.

Re:"Satellite"? (2, Informative)

Jonathan McDowell (515872) | more than 4 years ago | (#32320322)

I had someone from the Beeb prepping an interview on the Japanese solar sail probe last week who kept calling it a "space shuttle"., apparently under the impression that that was a general term for anything that went into space. Sigh. I propose the following correct astronomical and astronautical senses of 'satellite':

1) Any object in closed orbit around another object of larger mass (the most general sense, considered a loose usage: "the Earth is a satellite of the Sun" is rare, although "The Ikaros probe is a satellite of the Sun" does crop up. By 'closed' orbit I am excluding hyperbolic orbits - Voyager 2 was not a satellite of Saturn when it flew past.)
2) A natural celestial body in closed orbit around a nonstellar object of larger mass; a "natural satellite": "Phobos is a satellite of Mars". All known examples to date are rocky bodies, but one could imagine a Neptune orbiting a super-Jovian... the boundary between 'satellite and primary' and 'binary world' is fuzzy, as has been pointed out in the case of the Earth-Moon and Pluto-Charon systems.
3) An artificial object in closed orbit around any larger mass body: an "artificial satellite". "Space Shuttle Atlantis is an artificial satellite; the ISS is the largest artifiical Earth satellite; Cassini is an artificial satellite of Saturn". "The spacewalker's tool bag floated off and is now a separate artificial satellite" - so this includes all space debris objects. ("orbit" here implies gravitationally dominated motion: when Atlantis makes a flyaround of the ISS, it is not a satellite of the ISS. But possibly Luke's X-wing fighter, if his engines go out, is a satellite of the Death Star, even though the Death Star is artificial....)
4) An artificial satellite payload. "The satellite separated from the launch vehicle final stage". This is a narrower sense - satellite with a functionally useful payload as opposed to inert orbiting object.
5) A functioning artificial satellite payload. "How many satellites are there orbiting the Earth right now?". Often the questioner just means the ones that are still working.
6) An artificial satellite payload that does not include design provisions for carrying humans (i.e. is not a 'spaceship'), propulsion intended to send it onto a hyperbolic orbit after a brief stay in parking orbit (i.e. is not a 'space probe'), or aerosurfaces intended to provide controlled reentry and landing (i.e. is not a 'spaceplane'). This even narrower sense is the one being used by the original poster: a 'satellite' is an 'ordinary' spacecraft that isn't in any of these more interesting categories (but for some reason, other interesting categories: satellites with tethers for example, don't matter...).

I encounter frequent confusion caused by people mixing senses 3,4 and 5. Especially when they are asking me questions along the lines of the one in 5.
The X-37 clearly meets the definitions in senses 1, 3, 4 and 5, and so is a satellite *in those senses* even though one can argue that it's not *simply* a satellite per sense 6.. I, however, argue that sense 6, while valid nontechnical English by moderately widespread usage, should be eschewed by readers of slashdot as too muddily defined.

How can they call it a shuttle replacement (2, Insightful)

VorlonFog (948943) | more than 4 years ago | (#32313752)

When it won't carry people, and has no more the cargo capacity of a pickup truck?

Re:How can they call it a shuttle replacement (3, Funny)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314080)

Have you seen pickup trucks nowadays? Some of those things look quite capable of hauling space telescopes around.

Re: How can they call it a shuttle replacement (4, Funny)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314194)

Have you seen pickup trucks nowadays? Some of those things look quite capable of hauling space telescopes around.

Also known as "Penis Compensation Vehicles".

Re: How can they call it a shuttle replacement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32314282)

The irony is the largest pickup truck I've seen is driven by a 5' tall asian woman.

Re: How can they call it a shuttle replacement (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32314518)

ironic? who could need more penis compensation than that?

Re: How can they call it a shuttle replacement (3, Informative)

ari_j (90255) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314828)

Or, you know, a practical vehicle for moving cargo or tools from place to place and/or getting through adverse conditions including snow and undeveloped terrain. Granted, many people go too far and get a 1-ton truck with dual rear wheels and a heavy-duty diesel engine and matching transmission and then never one pull a trailer or haul a load, but they are the minority of pickup owners. Most people with that mindset just end up with a Hummer H1 or Corvette.

Well said! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32315982)

A pickup truck is often just the "right tool for the job". And since vehicles are rather pricey, a person often can't afford to have a fleet of specialized vehicles for each type of job. While a Prius would be fine for getting groceries, it sure can't safely carry 4x8 sheets of plywood, construction equipment, or tow a 30-ft trailer. And the price of a Prius buys a lot of gas for the pickup truck.

Re: How can they call it a shuttle replacement (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 4 years ago | (#32316510)

Agreed for the most part, but the number of people I know who drive their Dodge Ram to work everyday would seem to suggest that the majority do no in fact use them to their full capabilities. There's no way that even half of the trucks being driven around Houston are used as trucks.

Re: How can they call it a shuttle replacement (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#32317012)

> There's no way that even half of the trucks being driven around Houston are
> used as trucks.

There are a lot of trucks in the world that are not being driven around Houston.

Re: How can they call it a shuttle replacement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32321744)

You do realize that not everyone can afford multiple vehicles, right?

Re: How can they call it a shuttle replacement (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 4 years ago | (#32324596)

I drive my Ram to work every day.
I also drive it to the feed store, the dump, my family's house to move shit, etc.

And while it may be asshattish I charge people who ask me to help them move. Specifically:
I fill the tank and when we are done moving I fill it again. They get the bill for the second fill.

Re: How can they call it a shuttle replacement (1)

frosty_tsm (933163) | more than 4 years ago | (#32317750)

Or, you know, a practical vehicle for moving cargo or tools from place to place and/or getting through adverse conditions including snow and undeveloped terrain. Granted, many people go too far and get a 1-ton truck with dual rear wheels and a heavy-duty diesel engine and matching transmission and then never one pull a trailer or haul a load, but they are the minority of pickup owners. Most people with that mindset just end up with a Hummer H1 or Corvette.

Except in Southern California. And according to another poster, Houston.

I especially like the ones that raised the body way up, but still have the suspension / drive train at the original height.

Re: How can they call it a shuttle replacement (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 4 years ago | (#32324622)

That is particularly funny.
Then you see them go "off roading" and smack their transmission pan into something and their truck actually bleeds.

You can tell the really dumb ones because they try to drive out.

Re:How can they call it a shuttle replacement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32314516)

The main justification for the shuttle was as a launch vehicle for military payloads like the KH series spy satellites.

This is a test unit, along the lines of our drone program. This is Space Drone, Mark I.

NASA has been a military project all along despite some science missions it has carried out along the way.

Re:How can they call it a shuttle replacement (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 4 years ago | (#32314824)

putting people in space add huge unnecessary expense to a job that can be done by machine.

Re:How can they call it a shuttle replacement (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315122)

Humans think (not very well), but they think. Machines only act on a specific set of commands. Reprogramming a machine takes longer than a human can change his/her mind, based on the situation in real time.

Re:How can they call it a shuttle replacement (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315330)

remote control is also possible. The jobs the air force have in mind don't require such ability, and the savings of not having resource-wasteful human beings is enormous.

Re:How can they call it a shuttle replacement (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#32316884)

Humans think (not very well), but they think.

Largely true...

Machines only act on a specific set of commands.

Depending on what you mean, this is either flat-out false, or true, but equally true of humans (who, like the machines in question, have pre-coded instructions, and any decision-making that occurs beyond that is occurring in accord with those instructions -- they think because they're programmed to).

Reprogramming a machine takes longer than a human can change his/her mind, based on the situation in real time.

As a generalization, this is also just plain false. It can be true of particular machines, but it's certainly not always the case.

Re:How can they call it a shuttle replacement (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32322420)

Unless you have an infinitely modifiable heuristic matrix algorithm, I'll put my money on the human.
Machines are digital with analog components, humans are analog with digital components.

Re:How can they call it a shuttle replacement (4, Funny)

bcmm (768152) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315806)

No passengers. Less space than a pickup. Lame.

Re:How can they call it a shuttle replacement (1)

Iron Condor (964856) | more than 4 years ago | (#32320100)

Wait - who is calling this a shuttle replacement?

I mean - someone who just wanted the shuttle for sending little military spy satellites up can do so with the X37 - so it replaces that one function of the Shuttle.

Other than that, I haven't seen anybody claim hat this is a replacement for the Shuttle.

Not worth the cost? (1)

Posting=!Working (197779) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315246)

many aerospace experts questioned whether the mission benefits of the X-37B outweighed its costs and argued that expendable rockets could achieve similar results.

The secretive flight, civilian specialists said in recent weeks, probably centers at least partly on testing powerful sensors for a new generation of spy satellites.

So they're saying the benefits of the mission, which "probably centers at least partly on testing" sensors , aren't worth the cost. They don't have a clue what the mission is or it's benefits, how can they possibly say it's not worth it?

Even if you ignore all other possibilities for the mission and it's just for testing sensors, they have no idea what kind of sensors are being tested. What do they detect? Nuclear weapons? Underground gold and oil deposits? Are they just testing better cameras or perfecting Smell-o-vision? Some sensors might be more than worth the cost.

Re:Not worth the cost? (1)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#32315890)

I believe that unless the sensor is changed by the sensing, the observer changed by the observation that most sensors would be cheaper to put up on single use rockets. The sensor could also be the only working prototype and or made of unobtanium.

But since this is a technology demonstrator for a lot of next gen vehicle technologies those arguments are bunk.

The airframe and everything on it is a test bed, not only will the flight data be important but the returned airframe with its not shuttle based heat shields will be useful itself. The real question is will they try to make it go sideways a little when it's time to land the thing and actually use the wings for what they are designed for.

So have they found the The Prompt Global Strike? (2, Informative)

Devar (312672) | more than 4 years ago | (#32319488)

The Prompt Global Strike, a prototype that can hit any target around the world in less than an hour, was also launched the same day.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7106714.ece [timesonline.co.uk]

Have they found that yet?

Still edible after 8 months in space too (1)

leftie (667677) | more than 4 years ago | (#32319966)

Golden Hard Vacuum Resistant Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling

On board: Colonel Cochrane to test a 'warp drive' (1)

D4C5CE (578304) | more than 4 years ago | (#32320942)

No additional information has been found about the spacecraft's capabilities or purpose, except for a US Air Force statement that the satellite has no space-weapons purpose.

...and meet the Vulcans.

Of course, if the public knew, they'd find out about Cheyenne Mountain too. ;-)

Nine months? It's obvious.... (1)

rclandrum (870572) | more than 4 years ago | (#32322670)

They are breeding satellites to save on launch costs. Just raise the new satellite babies in orbit. Only the female sats need to stay aloft for 9 months though....

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