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After a Year In Orbit, US Air Force's X37-B Will Conclude Its Secret Mission

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the and-boy-is-it-tired dept.

Space 243

SomePgmr writes "The U.S Air Force's highly secret unmanned space plane will land in June — ending a year-long mission in orbit. The experimental Boeing X37-B has been circling Earth at 17,000 miles per hour and was due to land in California in December. It is now expected to land in mid to late June. And still, no one knows what the space drone has been doing up there all this time."

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243 comments

Given that this is slashdot... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40218983)

...I'm guessing most here will believe that its mission was one of unmitigated evil.

It's probably designed to shred the Constitution — from space!

Re:Given that this is slashdot... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219115)

No, it was designed by Apple, Microsoft and Facebook to crush peoples freedom and privacy, the government just helped for the kickbacks. Google was helpless.

Re:Given that this is slashdot... (1)

C_amiga_fan (1960858) | about 2 years ago | (#40219185)

The Constitution authorizes the creation of a military to defend against non-U.S. enemies. This is just the Republicans and Democrats dreaming about making Star Wars a reality..... unmanned robots in space.

Re:Given that this is slashdot... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219265)

This is just the Republicans and Democrats dreaming about making Star Wars a reality..... unmanned robots in space.

Unmanned robots?

Re:Given that this is slashdot... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219217)

Missiles will be fired from it on copyright violators. Hail our Hollywood overlords.

Re:Given that this is slashdot... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219557)

It's probably designed to shred the Constitution — from space!

Absurd. We do that perfectly well -- and cheaper -- on the ground.

Re:Given that this is slashdot... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219725)

That's not the American way. Why do something cheaper (even if perfectly well) when you can do something more expensive, from space?

Re:Given that this is slashdot... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219699)

A good chance the purpose was to see how long it could stay aloft, along with sensors tracking its health status, etc.. Could be useful for a low-orbit satellite system? Or eye-in-the-sky drones? Military uses as well, obviously. Or maybe a long term place for the president to command from in the event of a nuclear crisis or major disaster.

Re:Given that this is slashdot... (4, Funny)

couchslug (175151) | about 2 years ago | (#40219727)

"...I'm guessing most here will believe that its mission was one of unmitigated evil."

Damn political polarisation!

I favor Centrist, Mitigated Evil where all Americans can share the benefits.

Secretly sponsored by the airline industry... (4, Funny)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | about 2 years ago | (#40219773)

Setting a new government verified standard for "on-time" arrivals. After this benchmark; was due to land in California in December. It is now expected to land in mid to late June -- how can anyone complain about being a few hours late!

Space Kimchi! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40218991)

It's gonna be quite a hot batch!

'NO ONE KNOWS" ???? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40218995)

Not even the people who launched it?

Re:'NO ONE KNOWS" ???? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219065)

Welcome to the world of military intelligence...

Re:'NO ONE KNOWS" ???? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219437)

Military intelligence? That's an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

Re:'NO ONE KNOWS" ???? (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#40219083)

Maybe people didn't launch it? It could have built itself in an automated factory. Skynet has reached for the sky!

Re:'NO ONE KNOWS" ???? (1)

Tyr07 (2300912) | about 2 years ago | (#40219205)

Skynet was preparing to launch an attack from space. It demanded feet and was holding us secretly in hostage.

The planes return signals an agreement.

I, for one, Welcome our new space-plane Overlords. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219269)

I, for one, Welcome our new space-plane Overlords.

Actually (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219003)

Someone probably knows, I'd bet several people. Just not yet us.

Re:Actually (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219583)

Yoda, is that you?

It was looking for ALF (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219013)

And mozilla had Gordon Shumway all along.

Occam's Razor (4, Funny)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about 2 years ago | (#40219073)

Considering the huge number of satellites and space debris, I'm going to say that it was just stuck in traffic all year. Space rush hour really sucks!

Re:Occam's Razor (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219145)

The only solution is to build a bypass, I hear the Vogons do really good rates these days.

Re:Occam's Razor (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219389)

Mod Parent Up!

Re:Occam's Razor (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about 2 years ago | (#40219887)

Yeah they're cheap but to get to their offices for the planning meetings is a pain! Does anyone have a FTL drive I can borrow?

Fast (2, Funny)

Lord Lode (1290856) | about 2 years ago | (#40219103)

17,000 miles per hour, I guess that's something like 30,000 km/h? That seems pretty fast to me. How much fuel did that consume, and how did they provide it with fuel for a whole year?

Re:Fast (4, Funny)

cnettel (836611) | about 2 years ago | (#40219141)

In other news, Aristotle is suing you for infringing his intellectural property rights on fictional physics. Maintaining speed relative to another object does not, generally, require any continuous supply of additional energy. Free fall elliptical orbits are one example.

Re:Fast (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219423)

In the cow is a blob world physicist world.

Re:Fast (1)

Matheus (586080) | about 2 years ago | (#40219883)

Oh be nice... that 7-figure UID can be a heavy burden to bear sometimes!

In other news: Positioning engines for course corrections due to space debris, other satellites and getting a better view of yo momma's house require plenty of energy so albeit a bit mis-guided his question is not completely without merit.

Re:Fast (2)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 2 years ago | (#40219153)

I am not sure if you are being sarcastic, so if you are, I apologize.

If it is orbiting at 17,000 mph, the only fuel it would need after it is in that orbit is for course corrections and landing and possibly to correct for any drag.

Re:Fast (2, Funny)

Lord Lode (1290856) | about 2 years ago | (#40219255)

Oh, looks like I missed the "SPACE plane" part in the article description. I was thinking about flying through air.

Re:Fast (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219373)

Derpa derp aka you forgot the rules of physics because you're another slashdot IT drone. But yea, must not have read the word orbit in the title, thats it...

Re:Fast (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | about 2 years ago | (#40219399)

This object has been followed on the seesat-l list, and IIRC from the observations there it did perform a good number of orbital maneuvers, including the possibly fuel-intensive plane change. This required more than needed for mere station-keeping.

Otherwise, you're of course correct.

Re:Fast (2)

GodInHell (258915) | about 2 years ago | (#40219187)

how did they provide it with fuel for a whole year?

From TFA

The 29-foot, solar-powered craft had an original mission of 270 days.

The Air Force said the second mission was to further test the technology but the ultimate purpose has largely remained a mystery.

So -- I'm guessing solar power. Also, the folks in the picture are wearing hazmat uniforms and carrying what appears to be a geiger counter, so maybe nuke as well.

Re:Fast (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219481)

The hazmat and geiger counter are most likely not for manufactured onboard sources of radiation. A more likely reason is a year's worth of radiation exposure.

Re:Fast (4, Insightful)

pezpunk (205653) | about 2 years ago | (#40219507)

nah, the geiger counter is no indication of radioactive material / nukes on board. You see, it turns out, most of the visible objects in outer space are actually humongous balls of radiation-emiting nuclear plasma. spacecraft are routinely dusted by bits of nuclear material. it's also possible (at least theoretically) for atoms bombarded by radiation to transmute into radioactive isotopes themselves. it's probably a good idea to wear a hazmat suit when approaching any spacecraft recently returned from long periods away from atmoshperic shielding.

Re:Fast (2)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#40219199)

it was orbiting. how much fuel does the moon need to burn?

the point is that usa military has something that can go to orbit, stay there for a year and come back.

Re:Fast (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219551)

low earth orbit isn't in a complete vacuum. and so still suffers some drag. you still need occasional burns to stay in orbit and keep from crashing back into the earth.

Re:Fast (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219219)

17,000 miles per hour, I guess that's something like 30,000 km/h? That seems pretty fast to me. How much fuel did that consume, and how did they provide it with fuel for a whole year?

Not to worry. It's all downhill.

Re:Fast (2)

Tyr07 (2300912) | about 2 years ago | (#40219225)

Orbit - no air - way, way less friction. There's some minor drag probably unless it was a very high orbit. It consumes no fuel except for minor corrections
  as needed.

Why? Technically it's constantly falling, it's just moving forward to fast and keeps missing the earth. So, yea, does not require
fuel to maintain speed, only to increase or decrease it.

Re:Fast (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219285)

You do realize that an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force, right? Hence, the spaceship used very little fuel to maintain orbital velocity in an almost zero pressure atmosphere.

Re:Fast (1)

tokul (682258) | about 2 years ago | (#40219353)

How much fuel did that consume, and how did they provide it with fuel for a whole year?

Launch consumed one Altas V rocket. Fuel consumption was minimal when it was in orbit. ISS average speed is 17,239.2 mph. Do you really think that it is burning fuel all the time up there?

Re:Fast (5, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | about 2 years ago | (#40219391)

17,000 miles per hour, I guess that's something like 30,000 km/h? That seems pretty fast to me. How much fuel did that consume, and how did they provide it with fuel for a whole year?

Travelling through orbital space ain't like dusting crops, boy! It doesn't take any fuel at all. Look at the Moon, for example. It's been in orbit an awfully long time, but how long has it been since it was fuelled up?

Re:Fast (3, Informative)

Hadlock (143607) | about 2 years ago | (#40219471)

It consumed roughtly 737,400lbs of fuel, minus the weight of the Atlas V rocket (so 500,000 lbs of fuel?) to get it in orbit. To orbit the earth at an altitude above the non-negligible atmosphere, you need to travel at around 17,000mph or more. This is roughly the same speed the Shuttle, ISS, Dragon capsule, Hubble, et all are moving. The rocket puts it in orbit at that speed. I think once in orbit, about 6 months in to it's mission, it did an orbital course correction, which if done at the correct time, requires surprisingly little fuel to do.

Re:Fast (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219765)

17,000 miles per hour, I guess that's something like 30,000 km/h? That seems pretty fast to me. How much fuel did that consume, and how did they provide it with fuel for a whole year?

Well, you could read the article, but I guess it's easier to make yourself look like a fucking idiot.

Re:Fast (1)

noh8rz3 (2593935) | about 2 years ago | (#40219897)

man I hate the slashdot mods. you're either trolling to inflame people and get heated response or you're making a joke. I guess it depends who's "in" on the joke. My experience has been that people here are ready to jump on any flamebait, so I figured you're trolling. And I was modded down! How much does that suck????

I bet... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219171)

It's leaving one HELL of a chem-trail.

testing remote nuke silo... (1)

who_stole_my_kidneys (1956012) | about 2 years ago | (#40219189)

Whats better than having nukes on the ground, then having them in space, easily deploy-able at the push of a button (and a 20 second delay), to wipe out enemies. secret missions could have hundreds of these orbiting the globe with armed warheads for years with none the wiser.

or

the could be part of an missile intercept program to take down ICMB's...

or

they just wanted to get free Pay Per View.

Re:testing remote nuke silo... (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#40219623)

Nukes in space has been possible for 50 years. We don't do it because there are treaties against it, treaties that have remarkably been followed by all involved. It's not a a boat that anyone involved really wants to start rocking.

Re:testing remote nuke silo... (4, Insightful)

edremy (36408) | about 2 years ago | (#40219845)

Nukes in space has been possible for 50 years. We don't do it because there are treaties against it, treaties that have remarkably been followed by all involved. It's not a a boat that anyone involved really wants to start rocking.

It's not so much that there has been any great restraint on the part of the nuclear armed space powers as that there is no point to having them in orbit. ICBMs get anywhere in the world in 30 minutes, SLBMs are even quicker since they are closer. Silos are very well hardened and subs are hard to find- orbiting satellites have limited maneuverability, so you always know where the warhead is. A good chunk of the time orbital dynamics is going to say you're out of position to even hit your desired target. Plus, stuff in space can't be maintained easily and warheads need occasional maintenance to do things like replace the tritium boosters and check the electronics.

It's basically just not necessary

Secret? (4, Interesting)

RivenAleem (1590553) | about 2 years ago | (#40219207)

How secret can it be if we know it happened? What we really have to worry/consider are the things that we never even know happen, not just "don't know their purpose."

If the general community know that this 'secret' spaceplane was up there doing stuff, then you can guarantee that it wasn't doing anything sensitive, though possibly classified. When they do really important and secret things, you can guarantee that we never even know it happened at all.

Re:Secret? (1)

jank1887 (815982) | about 2 years ago | (#40219397)

"...guarantee that it wasn't doing anything sensitive, though possibly classified... "

you just might not quite understand the meaning of classified.

Re:Secret? (1)

networkBoy (774728) | about 2 years ago | (#40219683)

I think he does.
Classified, means just that classified.
It may be classified noforn in which case only US citizens may see the whatever it is.
It may be classified secret, or top secret, or TS<codeword>.
In all the above cases it is also sensitive.
It could also be classified as unrestricted (like NASA pictures of the deep cosmos), still classified, but not sensitive.

There is material that is born secret, and there is material that is classified secret, but classification is just that, putting the material in a class.
[/pedantic rant]
-nB

Re:Secret? (2)

Infiniti2000 (1720222) | about 2 years ago | (#40219873)

No, it's not. In this context, "classified" is not the same thing as the generic English word classified, "to put something in a class." In the context of US Government vernacular, classified means FOUO, secret, or above. It is NOT to be disseminated and explicitly carries with it the idea that leaking it will cause harm to someone or something relating to the USA.

Re:Secret? (1)

robot256 (1635039) | about 2 years ago | (#40219405)

Maybe the purpose of the mission is precisely to make the general community wonder what it is doing up there? To provide an environment for rumors and propaganda about our capabilities designed to scare our enemies? Not really too far-fetched. Besides, it's pretty difficult to hide something in orbit from the millions of amateur astronomers on the Internet, so better to let out the story that is is NOT a nuclear warhead than let the speculations get too carried away. Beyond that, what it's doing is still anyone's guess.

Re:Secret? (2)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 2 years ago | (#40219571)

How secret can it be if we know it happened?

1. It's really hard to hide a rocket launch.

2. Amateur astronomers like to make a game out of "spot the spy satellite"
The price of technology is coming down and the processing power of computers has going up.
More than enough to allow the hobbyist to spot "secret" satellites.

Give it another generation and the words "secret satellite" will no longer be used together.

Re:Secret? (4, Insightful)

pezpunk (205653) | about 2 years ago | (#40219615)

it's in the DoD's best interest for people to believe they are in posession of secret and unimaginable technological wonders. I think it's highly dubious (and optimistic, in my experience in this industry) to subscribe to the (conveniently non-falsifiable) notion that the U.S. military keeps all their most impressive toys 100% hidden from view. in fact, i suspect the opposite is closer to the truth.

Re:Secret? (1)

six025 (714064) | about 2 years ago | (#40219681)

What we really have to worry/consider are the things that we never even know happen, not just "don't know their purpose."

Obligatory Rumsfeld quote:

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know.

Just how far are you willing to take the paranoia?

Peace,
Andy.

Re:Secret? (2)

Kjella (173770) | about 2 years ago | (#40219743)

That's just stupid, space is empty. It's about as hard to hide a spacecraft as it is to hide a supercarrier, it's not that it's there which is a secret but what it can do. The military isn't ostrich stupid, they don't stick their head in the sand and pretend nobody else can see it either. Just like you can't hide a nuclear detonation anymore, anything that doesn't happen in a simulator will get picked up by seismographs. And yes, they register different than earthquakes.

Re:Secret? (1)

Anubis IV (1279820) | about 2 years ago | (#40219761)

How secret can it be if we know it happened?

Just because you know that a spy exists and is doing something does not mean that you know what they are doing. That's how it can still be secret and why it still is secret. Yes, we know it's up there, but we have no idea what it's actually doing while it's up there.

Re:Secret? (1)

Sloppy (14984) | about 2 years ago | (#40219775)

How secret can it be if we know it happened?

Was the Manhattan Project secret?

Those people in Los Alamos and Oak Ridge are doing something. Are they related? What are they doing?

There was a bright flash somewhere in White Sands. How did they do it? Did it have something to do with Los Alamos?

Something spectacularly bad just happened at Hiroshima. What was it, and how did they do it?

X37-B is landing. What was it doing? And if you ever find out what it was doing, will you know how they did it?

I just love journalists... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219253)

From the Article......

"At launch, the space plane was accompanied by staff in biohazard suits, leading to speculation that there were radioactive components on board. "

Why cant journalists that actually have an education in science cover science subjects?

Really? a BIOHAZARD suit for RADIOACTIVE protection?

Re:I just love journalists... (1, Funny)

robot256 (1635039) | about 2 years ago | (#40219331)

They were only wearing a biohazard suit because the sponsoring congresscritter was on hand for the occasion.

Support our robotic troops! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219263)

Will it get a column written about it on Memorial Day?

Biohazard suits.. (5, Insightful)

Knightman (142928) | about 2 years ago | (#40219279)

Funny comment in the article: "At launch, the space plane was accompanied by staff in biohazard suits, leading to speculation that there were radioactive components on board."

I'd wear protective suits if it is fueled with hypergolic propellant since it's extremely toxic, so the comment about radioactive components is just bs IMHO.

Re:Biohazard suits.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219433)

Thats what they want you to think....

Might be some sort of radioactive fuel.

Re:Biohazard suits.. (1)

networkBoy (774728) | about 2 years ago | (#40219735)

Radioactive Hydrazine :oooooooh:
In that case I'd want a lead biosuit.

Seriously, biosuits and cleanroom suits are the norm in space related activities.
It's no different than the (don't know the official name of the position) guy who dumps fuel in the race cars wearing a full nomex suit and protective gear. There is a well above non zero chance of exposure to flammable liquid or fire, so you protect against it.
-nB

Re:Biohazard suits.. (1)

almitydave (2452422) | about 2 years ago | (#40219987)

... don't know the official name of the ... guy who dumps fuel in the race cars ....

If it were the space program, he'd be the Propellant Installation Engineer.
If he were in a union he'd be a Flammable Fluids Expert.
In the military, he'd be a Motorcraft Refueling Technician.
But this is auto racing we're talking about, so we just call him the Fueler.

It was extended after nine months in orbit (1)

naris (830549) | about 2 years ago | (#40219333)

Well obviously it had to care for the baby drone it birthed...

space plane testing near Denver (2)

peter303 (12292) | about 2 years ago | (#40219417)

I talked to someone who saw the Dream Chaser [wikipedia.org] space plane undergoing air tests north of Boulder. Its one of four private manned vehicles in first-round development funded by NASA. I hear its supposed to be drop-tested from SpaceShipTwo later this year.

No one knows what it's been doing all this time... (5, Funny)

Tyrannicsupremacy (1354431) | about 2 years ago | (#40219455)

Not even the air force, or DARPA, or the NSA.

Government Spokesperson:
"It just kinda launched itself and seemed to be having a good time up there so we let it be."

Re:No one knows what it's been doing all this time (1)

networkBoy (774728) | about 2 years ago | (#40219755)

That would be creepy to hear.
Also, if it really had launched its self I think we all know it would be shot down ASAP.
-nB

A year in space ? (1)

Stolly (1812300) | about 2 years ago | (#40219473)

I thought the big thing about this vehicle was that it could go up and down more cheaply than traditional means. If its going to be left up there for a year, doesn't that defeat the object ? Perhaps its not operational yet, and this was just to prove that the production versions can operate for a long time.

Re:A year in space ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219711)

probably just testing things like you know... those solar panels, the batteries, etc

also, most of the space missions with deadlines, as of late, always get extended when they work well; probably why it is up there longer than expected

this is ground control to X37-B (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 2 years ago | (#40219745)

Going to space is an illuminating experience, like others [wikipedia.org], X37-B just didn't want to return to the mundane world.

Either that, or the original flightplan was for a three hour cruise.

Re:A year in space ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219819)

Yeah, but it had to stay there and hold the parking place for the next drone.

How about some conspiracy theory along with the humour? It was seeding the atmosphere with a deadly pathogen designed to wipe out 95% of the population leading to a more sustainable world. The would explain the biohazard suits.

Truth is.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40219659)

Nobody knows it took off on a mission of peace using experimental propulsion technology to get to the Galactic High Court to beg for mercy, in order to fend off the imminent destruction of your planet Earth...

Objective (0)

Yvan256 (722131) | about 2 years ago | (#40219717)

And still, no one knows what the space drone has been doing up there all this time.

Spying on the Spanish. No inquisition for you!

NEXT!

Should be obvious (1)

Stickerboy (61554) | about 2 years ago | (#40219843)

The US military has had an open goal of expanding its capabilities to kill targets selectively with as little delay as possible. All the gadgetry to achieve real-time eyes-on intelligence on a potential target (like the late UBL) can be worthless if it takes an hour or more to mobilize a strike against it and the target slips away. Having a potential weapons platform already up in the air 24/7 for a year at a time can cut the response time significantly. And if you are hindered by the fixed orbit, like spy satellites, just launch more space planes...

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