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X-37B Secret Space Plane's Second Launch Today

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the secret-space-weapons-from-space dept.

NASA 59

garymortimer writes "The X-37B will launch soon for a second 240 day flight and the cat and mouse game of following it will begin. Amateur astronomers have been able to find the orbit changing high flying UAV on at least two occasions after it altered height. For the first X-37B OTV mission, Air Force officials focused on testing and evaluating the performance capabilities of the vehicle. This second mission will build upon the OTV-1 on-orbit demonstration, validate and replicate initial testing and fine tune the technical parameters of the vehicle tests."

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59 comments

Purpose... (1)

galvitron (1540437) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386182)

The fact that this craft has cross-range capability might mean they're doing something that a disposable rocket launch couldn't achieve. Maybe launching a few smaller sats, then retrieving them?

Re:Purpose... (1)

Ceriel Nosforit (682174) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386236)

Some of its tasks include refueling and fixing solar panels on satellites.

Satellites aren't consumer tech, they're expensive so you don'y just replace them with new ones when they gone done broken.

I would love to hear some big beard talk about satellite engineering challenges...

Re:Purpose... (1)

galvitron (1540437) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386364)

Some of its tasks include refueling and fixing solar panels on satellites.

And how do you know this? I imagine that it is capable of doing that, with the right payload, but from what I understand, its mission(s) are classified.

I doubt its simply up there to repair satellites...seems like an awful waste of a capable craft.

Re:Purpose... (1)

Ceriel Nosforit (682174) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386516)

its mission(s) are classified.

Wikipedia. Didn't examine the source but I imagine this is what they had to say to sell the thing to the beancounters.

Re:Purpose... (2)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386710)

So many crackpot dictators, so few megawatt lasers.

Re:Purpose... (1)

Seggybop (835060) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386798)

oh man.
if they used this thing to take a potshot at Kadafi, I can't really express how ridiculously awesome it'd be.

if nothing else, I'd finially feel like this is really the far-flung futuristic year of AD 2011.

Re:Purpose... (1)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386790)

It would be trivially simple to deduce this as one of its functions - we know pretty much where every single man made object is down to about the size of a hammer, there are numerous free or paid applications floating around the net that will tell you where all of this stuff is right now, also where it is predicted to be at time X.

The X-37B wont get close to anything in orbit without someone figuring it out in short order - and if it does, the most logical explanation will be servicing or retrieval.

Common sense overcomes the whole 'classified' aspect though. What can you do with a spacecraft like this? Aside from the theorized servicing / retrieval aspect, about the only other major use would be as a great surveillance platform for looking down at the world in whatever part of the spectrum one might care to select. Where it's cost prohibitive to change the orbit of a more traditional spy satellite by small amounts to view different areas of the world, this craft is designed with that goal more in mind. You fill it full of ELINT / COMMINT / IMINT equipment, place it roughly where you need it to be, then maneuver as required. The best part being it'll come back to you when the batteries start going flat. Pretty easy to upgrade the payload in these circumstances.

Re:Purpose... (1)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 3 years ago | (#35387038)

Well, it makes perfect, perfect sense to use this platform as the unpredictable spy satellite that you can aggressively reposition on a whim, can't easily predict its passing, and don't have to worry about depleting the fuel of - and that means you can fly it in LEO and get a closer look at things.

Re:Purpose... (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 3 years ago | (#35387216)

" we know pretty much where every single man made object is down to about the size of a hammer"

That's awesome. I lost mine so perhaps I could ask them about it?

Re:Purpose... (4, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386968)

> The fact that this craft has cross-range capability might mean they're doing something that a disposable rocket launch couldn't achieve. Maybe launching a few smaller sats, then retrieving them?

With conventional launches, one major downside is that their orbits are very predictable. Basically anybody can track their trajectory as they're being launched, and once they're in an orbit only slow/minor orbital changes can be made. Since any rival country knows when spy satellites are overhead, they can just time maneuvers/operations to when they know they won't be watched.

One hypothesized major benefit of using a winged payload vehicle is that it opens up the possibility of dipping into the atmosphere and performing a hypersonic orbital plane change maneuver. This could potentially enable a spaceplane to essentially disappear and make its ground observations completely unpredictable.

Re:Purpose... (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 3 years ago | (#35388100)

These days they just blind them with lasers when they don't want to be watched. Actually they probably do it habitually just to prevent anyone knowing when they really don't want to be watched.

Re:Purpose... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35388266)

They'll drop a can of Nescafé on Qaddafi's head.

Maybe, maybe not. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35386190)

Friday's launch has been scrubbed. Will try again on Saturday, March 5, 2011.
See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/atlas/av026/status.html.

Define:Secret (1)

metalmaster (1005171) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386212)

not open or public; kept private or not revealed;

if ($_event == 'public') $_event != 'secret';

Re:Define:Secret (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35386246)


enum classification
{
classified,
secret,
secretToDrawPublicInterest, // attentionwhores
public,
declassified
}

Re:Define:Secret (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386354)

secret static void main(String[] args) {
    throw new SecuirtyException("sorry this is not for the public");
}

Re:Define:Secret (1)

Plombo (1914028) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386434)

secret static void main(String[] args) {
throw new SecuirtyException("sorry, spelling is not for the public");
}

FTFY

Re:Define:Secret (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386486)

secret static void main(String[] args) {

        throw new SecuirtyException("sorry, spelling nazisim is not for the " +
"public");

}

FTFY

FTFY

Secret? (1, Funny)

The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386214)

X-37B Secret Space Plane's

I guess there is a new definition of "secret" [google.com] that I'm not aware of.

Re:Secret? (4, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386278)

> I guess there is a new definition of "secret" that I'm not aware of.

Geeze, we get these comments from people attempting to be clever every single time there's a X-37 article. It's secret in the sense that nobody without security clearance has any idea of what its full mission is, what orbital shifts it's going to be making, or what's inside of its payload bay. If you want to be super strict about it then there's no such thing as a secret satellite launch, since any major country can tell when you're launching something into orbit.

Re:Secret? (3, Interesting)

The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386346)

By what you describe the X-37 is not a "secret space plane", however its mission is. What I remember as being called a secret Air Force plane was was much different in years past. Usually virtually no one knew they even existed until a decade or two after they had been developed. the U2 or the SR-71 are what I think of past "secret " planes. There were the spy satellite programs, but the fact that they launched them under a different guise did not make the satellite, rocket, or the launch itself a secret. It was the true nature of the mission that was a secret. I suppose that the standards of reporting have declined over the years, and sensational headlines are what sell now. Plus trying to hide such programs entirely is damn near impossible, or would cost more to hide than the entire program itself.

Maybe the X-37B is a distraction (1)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386680)

Who really knows what's going on? I think it's safe to assume that there is "state of the art" technology that is not commonly known to exist.

For example, suppose one of those government secret labs figured out the secrets of gravity decades ago. Would the powers-that-be let the public know that the most-sacred "Law of Gravity" has an off-switch?

Plus trying to hide such programs entirely is damn near impossible, or would cost more to hide than the entire program itself.

Little secrets are difficult to hide. Big, impossible secrets? Those would be much easier to keep under wraps, because it's easy to laugh advocates of "the impossible" out of the room.

And I'm sure they would know how to keep quiet the workers who'd retire from a project that was 'beyond top secret' anyways.

The Norwegian Spiral [wikipedia.org] is suggestive of secret technology. Someone suggested that the HAARP [wikipedia.org] array (or something like it) was used to reach out and "crush" the Russian's test rocket in mid flight. Status-quo defenders will snicker and laugh at such a proposition, but .... I do have to wonder [enterprisemission.com] if they've got a point. ?

Re:Maybe the X-37B is a distraction (3, Interesting)

schnell (163007) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386954)

Someone suggested that the HAARP array (or something like it) was used to reach out and "crush" the Russian's test rocket in mid flight. Status-quo defenders will snicker and laugh at such a proposition

Yes. Yes I will snicker and laugh. It's either because a.) I am a brainwashed or naive tool of a massive government conspiracy which thinks that its best use of time is to rebut posters on Slashdot; or b.) I'm just someone who knows enough about basic RF physics to conclude that the conspiracy theories about HAARP [skeptoid.com] are all total crap [internetpirate.com] .

It is left to the reader and their judicious use of Occam's Razor [wikipedia.org] to determine which of the above is more likely.

P.S. Private message me for the location of the freezer where we keep the remains of the Cigarette Smoking Man for experiments with the Black Oil!

Re:Maybe the X-37B is a distraction (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35389144)

The Norwegian Spiral is suggestive of secret technology.

It's suggestive of a rocket engine failure or near failure. All the rocket has to do is start tumbling (or have the control system rotate the rocket slowly) at high altitude and you see the effect.

Re:Secret? (3, Insightful)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 3 years ago | (#35387072)

By what you describe the X-37 is not a "secret space plane"

Yes, it is. Just like the stealth planes which were photographed before they were officially recognized. Just because we know it exists doesn't mean it isn't secret. It's classified secret by the government, and we don't know it's capabilities, current missions, future missions, or any of that. That counts for "secret."

Re:Secret? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35387240)

Usually virtually no one knew they even existed until a decade or two after they had been developed. the U2 or the SR-71 are what I think of past "secret " planes.

Which is exceptionally amusing - because neither plane you think as being secret were kept hidden much beyond five years after they were developed. The SR-71 was in fact announced by the President on national TV before it even flew for the first time.
 
What you're thinking of as a 'secret' airplane is in fact the A-12, for which the SR-71 was a successful cover, so sucessful that even though everyone else has known about it for decades, you remain in the dark.
 

I suppose that the standards of reporting have declined over the years, and sensational headlines are what sell now.

Nah, you've just made a number of groundless assumptions and are now blaming reality for failing to match them.

Re:Secret? (1)

The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) | more than 3 years ago | (#35394332)

What you're thinking of as a 'secret' airplane is in fact the A-12, for which the SR-71 was a successful cover, so sucessful that even though everyone else has known about it for decades, you remain in the dark.

Yeah, I'm quite aware of the A-12, YF-12A and several others in that line, though they are most commonly all referred to at SR's. The A-12 were more of a prototype/test bed. The real secret was the YF-12A variant that was armed with GAR-9/AIM-47a missiles. Get your shit right if you're going to try to tell me about reality.

Re:Secret? (0)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35394566)

Yeah, I'm quite aware of the A-12, YF-12A and several others in that line, though they are most commonly all referred to at SR's.

Um, no they aren't most commonly referred to as SR's. Well, not by anyone knowledgeable anyhow.
 

The A-12 were more of a prototype/test bed.

ROTFLMAO. The A-12 was a CIA photo reconnaissance aircraft. You can call it what you want, but it's just more backpedaling on your part to avoid dealing the with the fact that you're not only wrong, but clueless as well.
 

The real secret was the YF-12A variant that was armed with GAR-9/AIM-47a missiles.

No, the YF-12A wasn't secret at all. It was publicly announced less than six months after it's first flight.
 
You really have no fucking clue what you're talking about.
 

Get your shit right if you're going to try to tell me about reality.

ROTFLMAO. Three sentences, three mistakes, and you're telling *me* to get my shit together?

Re:Secret? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35411406)

The origins of the A-12 and SR-71 date back to the days when bombers were the major nuclear threat to the US. We wanted planes that could catch - and shoot down - Russian bombers OVER THE POLE, long before they ever got near territory we wanted to safeguard.

There was also the possibility of using the A-12 as a long-range escort capable of keeping up with the XB-70 Valkyrie.

Of course, both needs were scrubbed the moment we found out the Sovs were investing heavily in missiles - we ditched the Valkyrie in favor of ICBMs, and we didn't need interceptors to shoot down bombers that were only coming to make the ICBM blast craters a little bigger....

Not one to waste a good project, a secondary use was found for the now-unneeded supersonic interceptor as a super-fast, high flying spy plane - and the SR-71 was born.

Incidentally, the "SR" designation is the result of a presidential faux-pas: The actual Air Force designation for such planes is "RS", for "Reconnaissance - Surveillance", but when the President was publicly announcing the plane, he reversed the letters to "SR".

Rather than correct a sitting (and military-friendly) President on such a high-profile news item, the Air Force quickly changed the designation to "SR", giving it the moniker of "Strategic Reconnaissance".

Re:Secret? (1)

Coward Anonymous (110649) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386892)

And yet every launch is announced publicly months in advance and up close photos of it are published at every launch and landing. This is in stark contrast to Area 51 type secret projects where even the base's existence had been officially denied.
It's a different kind of "secret" project where for some reason the defense establishment is going out of its way to publicize the project's existence while keeping its intent secret.

There could be various reasons. Perhaps the publicity is designed to thwart a cancellation of the project by congress. I assume secret programs are easier to axe as there are no adverse public relations repercussions.
Perhaps the publicity is a method of measuring one of the program's goals. To see if the the orbiter can tracked by dedicated people and nations who know everything about launch time, launch location and initial orbit but know nothing of the flight plan. A bit far fetched and a bit counterproductive as it would immediately publicize the capability but who knows.

It's not your typical secret project.

Re:Secret? (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 3 years ago | (#35388814)

There could be various reasons. Perhaps the publicity is designed to thwart a cancellation of the project by congress. I assume secret programs are easier to axe as there are no adverse public relations repercussions.

I was thinking it would be the other way around, 80% of congress wouldn't even know what they were voting for or against, so there is no way to bad-mouth the project. When everything is classified then you just vote for a strong defense, or against the industrial-military establishment.

Re:Secret? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35390138)

Perhaps the publicity is a method of measuring one of the program's goals. To see if the the orbiter can tracked by dedicated people and nations who know everything about launch time, launch location and initial orbit but know nothing of the flight plan.

Assuming those who track the orbiter successfully will announce their capabilities. Its an interesting idea and I'm sure that various intelligence agencies are watching the watchers. And its a more complex problem than watching national adversaries to determine their capabilities.

In fact, the Air Force might be watching the amateur spotters as closely as those of foreign powers. Amateurs have several advantages that governments, like North Korea for example, don't. A global network of observers that can maintain nearly continuous vigilance, share observation data and have no fear of revealing their capabilities to an adversary. because of this, I'd guess that foreign governments make some use of the data collected by amateur observers to supplement their own intelligence. And as a result, the Pentagon might be wise to observe these capabilities and learn how to counter them (perhaps by injecting false information) should they need to hide an orbital maneuver at some critical time.

Re:Secret? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35387940)

It ain't open source, so it's secret.

secret is as secret does (5, Funny)

turkeydance (1266624) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386240)

maybe an open secret...like your Dad's porn folders. if it was a real secret...it would be like your Mom's.

Re:secret is as secret does (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35386290)

maybe an open secret...like your Dad's porn folders.
if it was a real secret...it would be like your Mom's.

Full of steroid freaks and overweight ducks???

I think I'll pass. I'm still in therapy from that one time I didn't knock.

Re:secret is as secret does (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35388476)

Yeah, esp. when it turns out that your mom was sharing the folder with your dad.

Re:secret is as secret does (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 3 years ago | (#35388858)

Yeww, neekid videos of your mom having kinky sex with 2 dwarves and an amputee, think of the children!

Misleading headline (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35386260)

Should have read:

X-37B Secret Space Plane's Second Launch Wasn't Today

Good Lord this is bad - incorrect ex post facto stories. I can't wait for the dupes.

The best/most interesting space work is done by .. (4, Interesting)

seifried (12921) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386336)

Robots. And this just seems to seal the deal. It can go up for 8 months. Doing that with humans is an absolute pain (carrying enough food alone is a non-trivial task). I personally think we should look at a combination moon shot style effort and moratorium on "manned" space flight for say 20 years, at the end of which we plan to have a functioning moon base (because there is water on the moon, gravity to keep people semi healthy, and you can just live underground and avoid most of the radiation/etc.) that will support X (an arbitrary number) of humans indefinitely (which means we need algae farms and whatnot). I'd rather see a short term reduction of people in space for long term gain than this piddly "space exploration with humans" program we currently have as a species.

Re:The best/most interesting space work is done by (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35389412)

moratorium on "manned" space flight for say 20 years, at the end of which we plan to have a functioning moon base

Right. A functioning moon base, inhabited by autonomous robots for two decades.

Whatcouldpossiblygowrong?

Re:The best/most interesting space work is done by (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35392194)

Yes, Robots, inspiring generations of kids to grow up and be astronauts ..... hmmm, maybe not.

Robots are better for the science.
Meatbags in space are better for PR (which is needed for the longterm health of the program).

Re:The best/most interesting space work is done by (1)

Eclipse-now (987359) | more than 3 years ago | (#35394210)

I like the big picture. And with GenIV reactors that breed up nuclear waste as fuel, it wouldn't take too big a payload to fuel up the place and have multiple reactors to keep the station fully powered. On a moonbase a blackout means death.

no real health care, teachers layed off.... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35386406)

Hmmm... I have an idea of where we could cut _trillions_ of dollars in waste.

Oh, yeah, sorry forgot our priorities-- grandma can eat cat food, but we can't deprive our generals of caviar.

UAV? Not for months. (1)

ChucktheMan (1991030) | more than 3 years ago | (#35386436)

Technically it is only a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) for that last fifteen minutes or so. Before that time it is just a regular satellite with a fancy heat shield instead of a plain one.

one more try! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35386466)

Good to see they haven't lost faith in the Taurus XL.

Board of Medical Examiners (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35387190)

Medical House Call, Office Call , Hotel Call (Nationwide and all other serviced areas)
In home Medical diagnostics

Board of Medical Examiners [kkdocs.com]

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