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Air Force Sends Mystery Mini-Shuttle Back To Space

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the not-doing-anything-suspicious-no-sirree dept.

Space 123

dsinc sends this quote from an AP report about the U.S. Air Force's X-37B spaceplane: "The Air Force launched the unmanned spacecraft Tuesday hidden on top of an Atlas V rocket. It's the second flight for this original X-37B spaceplane. It circled the planet for seven months in 2010. A second X-37B spacecraft spent more than a year in orbit. These high-tech mystery machines — 29 feet long — are about one-quarter the size of NASA's old space shuttles and can land automatically on a runway. The two previous touchdowns occurred in Southern California; this one might end on NASA's three-mile-long runway once reserved for the space agency's shuttles. The military isn't saying much, if anything, about this new secret mission. In fact, launch commentary ended 17 minutes into the flight. But one scientific observer, Harvard University's Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, speculates the spaceplane is carrying sensors designed for spying and likely is serving as a testbed for future satellites."

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timeframes reveal anything? (3, Funny)

linatux (63153) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254425)

Must be over-due for a good conspiracy theory

Yes.. the "mystery mini-shuttle" owned by the USAF (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254517)

Highly unlikely that it's spying on other countries, right? There's got to be something else at work here.

Also, it's not a conspiracy theory if there's actually conspiring a happening.

Re:Yes.. the "mystery mini-shuttle" owned by the U (2)

Jeng (926980) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254593)

Also, it's not a conspiracy theory if there's actually conspiring a happening.

So does that mean it goes from a Theory to a Law?

Re:Yes.. the "mystery mini-shuttle" owned by the U (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254713)

Theories do not work that way! Good night!

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (4, Insightful)

mcrbids (148650) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254531)

Conspiracy or no, the Air Force did what NASA could not: demonstrate a PRACTICAL, reusable space plane.

NASA had a "designed by committee" project that threw in everything including redundant kitchen sinks and ended up with a bloated whale of a project that was highly impractical and utterly a failure at what it was intended to do: reduce costs. Instead what we got was something designed by committees of non experts that ended up with something like Homer Simpson's badly designed car [onscreencars.com] that has been an utter failure in the marketplace.

This is a classic White Elephant [wikipedia.org] development that simultaneously bankrupted NASA while disabling the development of any more feasible technologies. So we're stuck with it while NASA tries to regroup and come up with a strategy that doesn't suck.

Meanwhile, belief in NASA's proficiency is at an all time low, so even though they are, in fact, doing some really cool stuff, the fact is that the worlds wealthiest nation has one of the world's least useful space programs.

So the USAF built their own. Is anybody surprised?

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254543)

How do we know that?

As far as we know this is a totally new craft at every launch.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (4, Interesting)

thebigmacd (545973) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254765)

The space shuttle was largely a new craft at every launch too: the fuel tank was new, the engines were rebuilt, tiles were replaced, boosters were remanufactured (and completely new every few flights)

I think it was the shuttle (might have been the Saturn V) that had around 4000 parts fail every flight.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254579)

One reuse so far, and it's unmanned. It's a bit much to compare that to what NASA wants, which is a manned craft, that's definitely reusable more times. (The X-37B might be, it's just too early to say. It hasn't even landed after the first reuse yet.)

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (1)

kimvette (919543) | about a year and a half ago | (#42256967)

It should be easier to make the X-37B more reusable. Because the entire airframe doesn't have to be pressurized for the duration of each flight, the airframe should last a hell of a lot longer before metal fatigue sets in.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (5, Insightful)

Hythlodaeus (411441) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254623)

X-37 is a NASA design. The Air Force rescued it when NASA couldn't find the money to keep it going.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (4, Informative)

Jeng (926980) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254625)

NASA had a "designed by committee" project that threw in everything including redundant kitchen sinks and ended up with a bloated whale of a project that was highly impractical and utterly a failure at what it was intended to do: reduce costs.

The worst features of the Space Shuttle were put there for possible military missions, but the military looked at the final product and basically said "What were we thinking?", and continued to use rockets.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (4, Interesting)

peragrin (659227) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254771)

no the worst features of the shuttle was putting the main engines on the the shuttle instead of on a primary booster like the Buran.

That created a lot of complicated parts that took way to much time to maintain between launches. All three main engines in each shuttle required a complete disassembly between launches. Not to mention the weight.

The Buran flew like the x-37 flies now. pushed up by something else and then using thrusters in orbit.
Indeed the X-37 is being studied by boeing for a 200% scale version for manned version as flying down from orbit is safer than parachute landing.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (5, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#42255735)

no the worst features of the shuttle was putting the main engines on the the shuttle instead of on a primary booster

The worst feature of the shuttle was trying to make it carry both people and cargo. That is like trying to make an airplane do the job of both a F-16 and a C-130. It is not going to do either very well. We should have designed a cheap unmanned heavy lift vehicle that was 99% reliable, and a much smaller "space-plane" to carry people that was 99.99% reliable. Instead we built a really expensive manned heavy lift vehicle that was ~98% reliable (135 launches, 2 failures).

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42258791)

I'm always amazed that people expected NASA to get a perfectly safe and cheap reusable spaceplane at the first attempt when nothing like this had ever been done before.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | about a year and a half ago | (#42257113)

I disagree regarding the main engines. The SSME Block II engines required a lot less maintenance than previous engines did. Most of the cost was in the solid rocket boosters, drop tank, hypergolic OMS/RCS and TPS maintenance.

you do not understand (4, Insightful)

tiqui (1024021) | about a year and a half ago | (#42257721)

The shuttle rode on the side of the stack for a reason - so it could use it's three main engines for the entire climb to orbit. These engines were designed to be the best rocket engines ever developed (which meant they'd be very complex and expensive) and, therefore, to be re-usable. They were on the back of the orbiter not as an error, but precisely because that meant they would come home for re-use instead of being thrown-away on each flight. What you seem to think was a mistake, was in fact a design feature and part of the argument for making the scheme both technically and financially workable. As long as going to space requires throwing away most of the vehicle, it will remain the exclusive domain of governments and rich businesses/businessmen. Nobody but the super rich could afford to fly from NY to LA if the entire airliner was discarded during the flight and the passenger parachuted onto the LA runway in a small escape pod.

In actual practice, nothing about the shuttle system turned out to be as cheap as initially intended; that rarely happens on the first-generation of any world-leading technology. Had we built a 2nd generation of shuttles they likely would have performed far better with lower turn-around times and costs.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254803)

You don't consider national systems deployment for the CIA and NRO to be military missions?

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (4, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254821)

Yes but not exactly the way you think it happened. NASA wanted a smaller shuttle to well shuttle astronauts and supplies to a space station. NASA also wanted in improved Saturn V "The uprated F1a was already in testing" as well. Congress said no you can have which ever is cheaper.
Congress also wanted it to do all the military launches so they had to put big spy sats into polar orbits. Without military support no shuttle. NASA was fighting for their lives at the time.

We can put a man on the moon but we can not "fill in your social cause or pet project here"!
Well we can't put men on the moon anymore! Happy now!

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42255031)

Well we can't put men on the moon anymore! Happy now!
Welcome to 40 years ago. The rest of us have long since lost even our ability to be disgusted at the USA, and now just feel pity.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42257167)

You mean the rest of you, who never even tried? Face it, your country blows.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (2)

bobbied (2522392) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254823)

The worst features of the Space Shuttle were put there for possible military missions, but the military looked at the final product and basically said "What were we thinking?", and continued to use rockets.

Not exactly true. Shuttle missions where partially funded by USAF projects on a number of occasions, and I recall at least one "classified" shuttle mission.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254935)

The worst features of the Space Shuttle were put there for possible military missions

That's the urban legend version of the story... In reality, NASA was already studying most of those features (notably the double delta wing and it's enhanced crossrange capability) and seriously considering incorporating them because of the enhanced safety (more abort options, more landing opportunities) and greatly increased operational flexibility (more landing opportunistic) that they provided. Contrary to popular belief, the Shuttle's development history is fairly complicated - and there is no "golden design" from which NASA deviated solely at the behest of the DoD.
 

but the military looked at the final product and basically said "What were we thinking?", and continued to use rockets.

Um, no. The DoD did embrace the Shuttle - when Challenger broke up, Discovery was being prepared for transfer to the DoD and the launch complex at Vandenburg was nearly complete.

More wrong than right (2)

tiqui (1024021) | about a year and a half ago | (#42257819)

First, the shuttle was not a camel designed by committee, nor was it a bloated whale. In actual use, it ended-up being far cheaper to operate than the old Saturns it replaced (NASA has finally run and published the numbers now that the program is over) it just never came close to the goals that were set for it.

NASA spent years studying many different shuttle system designs and took designs and bids from Grumman, Lockheed, Boeing, Rockwell, McDonnell Douglas, etc and compared many of these designs not just on paper but with an amazing amount of engineering analysis. In the end, they were forced by a bi-partisan political consensus (including President Nixon and the Democrats who ran congress) to choose the system with the lowest up-front development costs but the highest operational costs (they all wanted small numbers while they were in office and did not care what the numbers would be later when they'd be out of office).

It's a common urban myth that the USAF drove the need for a delta wing; it's not true. The USAF needed that for polar launches from VAFB with aborts back to California instead of mid-ocean (need 1K miles of cross-range in that scenario because the Earth keeps turning after you launch... ) but NASA came to the conclusion that they too needed about the same capability. The USAF gets blamed for this feature only because they were smart enough to see their need first. It is true that the USAF needed the big payload bay with specific dimensions for a certain payload but here, again, the requirement was not particularly different from what NASA wanted anyway.

Finally, the USAF did not happily turn its back on the shuttle; At the time the Challenger exploded, there was a shuttle on the pad at VAFB in California (not for launch, but for facility checkout ahead of the first California launch) and they were gearing-up for many military flights to come. The USAF was ordered to transition to other vehicles in the aftermath of the Challenger accident and investigation. Part of the investigation was a re-assessment of the risks of shuttles and that lead to a decision to abandon the use of systems like the Centaur upper stage for shuttle, which were thought to add far too much risk to an already risky vehicle. If the US had had a mush larger fleet (perhaps 10 orbiters) and the ability to remotely operate them on the riskiest missions, the USAF would likely have continued to use shuttles. As it was, there were military missions and payloads even after Challenger during the transition to EELVs.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (2)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254641)

demonstrate a PRACTICAL, reusable space plane.

I think you mean a practical, reusable space plane that has never been man rated and never will be. That requires a whole other level of engineering, testing, reviewing, and documentation.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254719)

I think you mean a practical, reusable space plane that has never been man rated and never will be.

At least, it's practical. That puts it above the Shuttle which also has never been man rated and never will be.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254731)

... mostly documentation.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (2)

timeOday (582209) | about a year and a half ago | (#42255137)

I am curious of what is the point of an unmanned space plane? There's nobody on it, so why make the return trip? The ability to fly down must compromise the design for everything else to some degree.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (3, Interesting)

gadget junkie (618542) | about a year and a half ago | (#42255609)

I am curious of what is the point of an unmanned space plane? There's nobody on it, so why make the return trip? The ability to fly down must compromise the design for everything else to some degree.

It might just be that the RESULTS from the sensors are so far ahead of the curve, that the DoD doesn't want to broadcast them in any shape or form. Or, security of military channel data have been compromised to some degree. Or, just a message to the Chinese, who have tested antisatellite weapons in the past [wikipedia.org] , that their "dark period" in that case is not measured in weeks, even if they disrupt communications between the satellites and earth.
It might be like the B2 Spirit [wikipedia.org] : there might be only 20 of them, but if your bosses control a country spanning 5 time zones and want an early warning system capable of defeating it, start to print money now. Because you do not have enough of it.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (1)

timeOday (582209) | about a year and a half ago | (#42256705)

Interesting ideas. I suppose the security of this "downlink" (flying the data back to the earth) is very good, but the latency is killer - the previous mission was over a year long! And I don't see how this would reduce the blackout period after an anti-satellite attack.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (1)

gadget junkie (618542) | about a year and a half ago | (#42257979)

it might be that the security is good NOW, but that this results are good enough that they do not want to risk decryption in a distant future..I recall a slashdot discussion about Key cryptoanalysis which was in a way scary, about how good new rigs using video cards are.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (1)

tibman (623933) | about a year and a half ago | (#42257339)

Imagine spy satellites that can return to earth for an upgrade when new tech is available : )

There are MANY reasons (1)

tiqui (1024021) | about a year and a half ago | (#42258009)

The USAF has dreamed of a small space plane like this for decades. They tried to build one in the early sixties (X-20 DynaSoar, with a crew of one) and were actually quite close to flying before MacNamera (yeah, Mr. Vietnam, himself) killed it to spend the money some place else. You are free to guess where he needed more money. Neil Armstrong actually flew the launch abort tests for the X-20 in a modified aircraft at Edwards long before he transferred to NASA and the Gemini and Apollo programs. It must have seemed like a miracle to some in the USAF when NASA and a stupidly short-sighted congress abandoned the X-37 program. The Air Force essentially got the program for free from the NASA junk pile (though they have, of course, spent a bunch on it since).

A little unmanned plane like this is a sports car; you don't use it for day-to-day trips, but you use it on special occasions and for special things. A zippy little platform like that can be used to test lots of cool new tech like new sensors. New sensors could generate massive amounts of raw data and be tested looking at most of the earth in all seasons and looking through all weather. You could fill the payload bay with solid state drives or even regular hard drives and save everything in a completely raw, lossless, uncompressed format along with extra data for analysis while downloading only small subsets of the data live. When the vehicle returns, you get back all the raw data, any performance/diagnostic data you chose not to downlink, and the sensors as well (for further analysis, and possible upgrade and re-flight)

It's the ultimate spy satellite development platform

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254801)

Uh huh, how much did it cost? how long did it take them?

Make sure you deduct any information they gleaned from NASA's "Bloated" attempts, in your figures.

Oh.. right.. you don't know.

It's easy to armchair quarterback.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254831)

s/deduct/include

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (4, Interesting)

bobbied (2522392) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254809)

Conspiracy or no, the Air Force did what NASA could not: demonstrate a PRACTICAL, reusable space plane.

NASA had a "designed by committee" project that threw in everything including redundant kitchen sinks and ended up with a bloated whale of a project that was highly impractical and utterly a failure at what it was intended to do: reduce costs. Instead what we got was something designed by committees

The Shuttle was a MANNED vehicle while the USAF's is NOT manned. Having a crew requires significant amount of equipment and weight to provide the minimum of life support (power, air, light, cooling, food, waste processing etc) which is not required by the USAF's unmanned drone. Further, it's been a couple of decades since the shuttle was designed and technology has advanced, getting smaller, lighter, and less power hungry. I am not surprised that an unmanned vehicle is smaller, cheaper, and more mission capable all things being equal. But they are not equal..

Comparing the current state of the art and complaining that what we fielded 30 years ago was a waste is not valid. Yes, the Shuttle did not meet the cost per launch targets, but I don't think the shuttle program was a total waste of time or money because of that. And the USAF's unnamed drone is 30 years more advanced in technology which was partially developed through what we learned though the shuttle program.

If anything surprises me is that it took so long for the USAF to figure out they needed a reusable platform of their own, but even that is understandable when you remember they used the shuttle for some classified work when it was available. This is just the natural progression of things.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (2)

Darth_brooks (180756) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254989)

The next generation X-37, the X-37C, is expected to be scaled up by 165%-180%, with the expectation of having a crew habitation unit (likely a modular unit that can be swapped in and out as needed.)

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (3, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year and a half ago | (#42255865)

Comparing the current state of the art and complaining that what we fielded 30 years ago was a waste is not valid.

Perhaps, but NASA has had major managment issues from the start. Go read Appendix D of the Challenger Disaster report, by one Mr. Feynman, who had to fight tooth and nail to expose the institutional problems that led to the problem. It's since become a case study in how not to manage a project and is required reading in several prominent engineering companies. The design of the shuttle engines, while amazing pieces of technology, were not built according to best practices -- it was literally put together as a whole system and then tested as a completed unit rather than integrating each subsystem after extensive testing and comparison with expected baseline. Debugging the damn thing was exceptionally problematic and to this day it's still not known if all the possible failure modes and bugs have been found and documented. Management showed a long pattern of decreasing safety standards and bypassing procedural safeguards to maintain their image as "cutting edge".

NASA still suffers from those problems today, and private contractors and now the USAF have proven that the technology is actually not all that sophisticated nor requiring the massive administrative overhead that is so typical of NASA missions and daily operations. They've done it faster, better, and cheaper than NASA did, and their success lies not in copying existing technology, or inventing new technology, but in having good project management skills and not letting committee thinking and politics mangle and derail the whole thing, leading to massive cost overruns.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42255037)

It is no conspiracy that the bureaucrats controlling NASA do not want any real sience or progress for humanity. They just want pork for their corporations (IBM, Exxon, etc)

The slaves do not deserve to know the truth about anything.

The civilian sector could be manning our own missions to other planets, we could have a frontier in space. People just dont want to admit that things are wrong, bad, and fucked here on earth and revolt. Its time to regain control of our production of power, and industry. Bring it back into the public domain for everyone.

Start with the power and energy company monopolies, communications (telco) monopolies govermnents and banks. Also the monopolies on higher education and real information, not the bullshit you get plugged in highschool.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42255235)

Your argument looks much better if you could pull it together long enough to spell science right.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42255389)

You have an interesting way of thinking, or not thinking.

One misspelled word and now you ignore and question the whole philosophy of the content.

The US tax code sucks and the US debt is getting wors every day. Using your logic, since I misspelled a word, the US tax code must not suck and the debt is not getting worse.

 

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (1)

mbkennel (97636) | about a year and a half ago | (#42256265)

"It is no conspiracy that the bureaucrats controlling NASA do not want any real sience or progress for humanity. They just want pork for their corporations (IBM, Exxon, etc)."

This is true, if you recognize that the "bureaucrats" fitting this description are known as Congressmen.

If you're talking about people inside NASA administration, they actually do want science and progress. The institutional process is very difficult however, and there are laws and meddling which don't apply to a private corporation.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (2)

bagorange (1531625) | about a year and a half ago | (#42255043)

How likely is it that the x37b gleaned no information from the space shuttle's development and use?
very unlikely indeed.
How likely is it the x37b is able to take advantage of advances in technology and materials made since the early 80s/late 70s?
almost certain
How much easier is it to build something not designed to carry humans?
a great deal easier

They got learn from people preceding them, and got to do the job with better tools, and had an easier job to do.

Your unthinking post is there to reinforce your own dogma that government === incompetence.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (1)

andydread (758754) | about a year and a half ago | (#42255223)

WOW! You do know that Boeing is the primary contractor among other contractors behind the design of both manned and unmannded spacecraft you mentioned here? If one was designed by committee so was the other. Also you do know that much of what was learned in the shuttle program went into improvements you see in the X-37B?. Surely you must know the X-37B doesn't have onboard redundant life support systems because there are no astronauts onboard to keep alive when the spacecraft is operational. /facepalm

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42255563)

There's that magical pixy dust word "market" being thrown around. Stop. Just stop.

The shuttle's problems had everything to do with pork and politics, not NASA. You're blaming NASA for the failings of congresscritters that diverted lucrative contracts to companies in their areas.

Ex. - Boosters were made in the midwest and shipped to florida in peices. This is shitty, and it probably killed the challenger crew. (Could have made them as whole units, in Florida) Nasa didn't decide this. A congressperson did.

Ironically, the companies fat on pork for NASA projects are the first to scream about free markets when their contracts are threatened. Sorry. That term is dead. It means nothing now. Stop using it

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42256073)

...Instead what we got was something designed by committees of non experts that ended up with something like Homer Simpson's badly designed car [onscreencars.com] that has been an utter failure in the marketplace....

I thought Homer's car was cool.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42256099)

So the American Taxpayer paid for the USAF to build their own. Is anybody surprised?

FTFU.

Military/Industrial Complex: sucking dollars into dark projects since spears were being made behind the bushes.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42256219)

http://www.airspacemag.com/space-exploration/Secret-Space-Shuttles.html
So don't say the Air Force did use the space shuttle. There are 11 known classified space shuttle missions, we know of them but not what there purpose was. I have heard that the Russian Buran was built to counter the military threat of the space shuttle.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42258343)

Practical? How is spending a whole bunch of my money on something they won't even talk about practical? It's a fricken war machine plain and simple. We pay for it, they get to play with it. It's not practical.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254573)

Must be over-due for a good conspiracy theory

We're establishing trade relations with the extraterrestrials, eventually we'll be outsourcing manufacturing to the stars!

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (3, Funny)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254799)

More likely the MPAA is behind this. Space aliens have been torrenting by tapping into the dark nets and now the MPAA is on their tails.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254969)

...as long as the accents are understandable, because what we have now is atrocious. :(

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254919)

The truth is the space plane that landed didn't have the same serial number as the one they lanched... it was a different craft. The Gov stil isn't sure either, so this one is kind of a trojan horse designed to figure out where the last one they lauched went and where the returned one came from.

Re:timeframes reveal anything? (1)

jamesh (87723) | about a year and a half ago | (#42256361)

Must be over-due for a good conspiracy theory

Sure is. If I was a government up to no good (which ones aren't?) i'd launch something like this too to take attention off what I was really up to...

Yea... (2)

kc67 (2789711) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254437)

"...speculates the spaceplane is carrying sensors designed for spying and likely is serving as a testbed for future satellites." That is what we need. More speculation. I speculate it is full of bacon and will be headed for the moon. Everyone needs bacon, even those going to the moon.

Re:Yea... (1)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254519)

Air force uses their space drone for testing and spying? I'd say his speculation is so likely as to be nearly assumed.

I'm not quite so sure about the bacon deliveries.

Re:Yea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254705)

Air force uses their space drone for testing and spying? I'd say his speculation is so likely as to be nearly assumed.

I'm not quite so sure about the bacon deliveries.

It could just as well be beer. There is precedence. When my father was in the Air Force Security Services [wikipedia.org] , everyone got fresh beer delivered to the their front door every morning. Now, that was in rural Bavaria, but for all we know the practice could also apply to the secret space station.

PS - my captcha for this comment is "craziest"

Re:Yea... (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254841)

"...speculates the spaceplane is carrying sensors designed for spying and likely is serving as a testbed for future satellites."

That is what we need. More speculation. I speculate it is full of bacon and will be headed for the moon. Everyone needs bacon, even those going to the moon.

Well we have been wanting to go back to the moon, and apparently it being made of cheese is not a good enough reason. Now it will be cheese topped with bacon.

Mmm... bacon and cheese.

Re:Yea... (1)

dgatwood (11270) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254911)

Everyone needs bacon, especially those going to the moon.

FTFY.

Toby in 'West Wing' was right... (2)

Kittenman (971447) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254443)

Military version of the shuttle, etc etc... conspiracy, etc etc ...

Re:Toby in 'West Wing' was right... (1)

trdtaylor (2664195) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254575)

Toby would have shit himself already when we started drone striking U.S. citizens in Pakistan.

Re:Toby in 'West Wing' was right... (1)

Kittenman (971447) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254669)

Toby would have shit himself already when we started drone striking U.S. citizens in Pakistan.

Agreed. Suspect that would have been Leo's idea.

Re:Toby in 'West Wing' was right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254725)

Toby shit himself when his Manifesto on Redistribution of Office Supplies as a Means of Achieving Social Justice and Righting Historical Inequities, was summarily declined. He stormed out, muttering something about class struggle and cupping the seat of his pants with both hands. s38e04.

Timed with asteroid flyby (2)

pr0t0 (216378) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254445)

Up at the same time 4179 Toutatis makes it's closest flyby? Not a coincidence. While all telescopes will be trained on the 3-mile rock gently drifting past, the true mission of the X-37B will be underway. What's that mission? Oh you know, the usual...space-aliens from Vega.

Re:Timed with asteroid flyby (3, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254545)

Actually that sounds like an excellent opportunity to test the sensors. Can they track and get anything back from the asteroid? If you can catch a photo of an asteroid whizzing by, this tells you a lot about your effective capabilities.

I'm impressed by the automated landing. Granted you don't have to be quite as careful as there are no meatbags inside, but it's still a damn cool feat.

Re:Timed with asteroid flyby (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42255753)

The Buran did it over 20 years ago, with frankly astonishing precision.

The automated landing took place on a runway at Baikonur Cosmodrome where, despite a lateral wind speed of 61.2 kilometres per hour (38.0 mph), it landed only 3 metres (9.8 ft) laterally and 10 metres (33 ft) longitudinally from the target mark.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_qOrK_mn0U

Re:Timed with asteroid flyby (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42256409)

Hmm, I'm going to have to say that no, it would be a horrible way to test your sensors.

Assume for a moment that your sensors are intended to fill a roll similar to traditional spy satellites. They will be scanning portions of the Earth. Trying to force your equipment to measure something which is not your normal target, may not produce useful imagery, and won't behave in a manner like your eventual targets is a terrible test.

It wouldn't prove anything additional, and certainly wouldn't prove that you could perform your actual mission. Even worse, you would commit many labor hours to designing the test, planning, executing, analyzing, and reporting the data which may not be useful even if the test is successful. Unfortunately for a lot of 'wouldn't it be cool.' stories, the best tests are those which are most representative of the environment you plan to operate in.

Re:Timed with asteroid flyby (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | about a year and a half ago | (#42258503)

What if the sensors were intended to search, find and track other satellites in any orbit (low, medium, high, geostationary or higher still, including eliptical orbits)? Then an asteroid is an excellent - if somewhat large - test.

But somehow I don't think that the USAF are up there to do any scientific missions. So they may as well test their space vehicle on the actual target?

Re:Timed with asteroid flyby (3, Interesting)

Alomex (148003) | about a year and a half ago | (#42256589)

I'm impressed by the automated landing. Granted you don't have to be quite as careful as there are no meatbags inside, but it's still a damn cool feat.

The technology for automated landing was there 30 years ago when the shuttle was being built. The astronauts complained and demanded they pilot the craft, so changes were made. If not for those the shuttle would have already been 100% automated landing.

Re:Timed with asteroid flyby (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42256841)

The Russian's space shuttle had a fully automated landing in 1988

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buran_(spacecraft)

Re:Timed with asteroid flyby (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254585)

Someone earlier suggested that the cargo is bacon, which the Vegans find repulsive.

project "rashers from God" (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254677)

I thought the Sirians didn't like bacon.

Re:project "rashers from God" (1)

msauve (701917) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254843)

We don't have to worry about the Sirians, their navigation doesn't work.

Re:project "rashers from God" (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | about a year and a half ago | (#42255195)

no mod points today so "well played sir, well played"

"Hidden" on top of a rocket?!? (3, Insightful)

phayes (202222) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254477)

Why not use the word cowering or is that just too transparently anti-military for the axe-grinding author?

Re:"Hidden" on top of a rocket?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254503)

Jeez...

Talk about having an axe to grind.

Re:"Hidden" on top of a rocket?!? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254551)

Yea, I am amused as well. You know, because payload fairing is meant to keep you from seeing it right? Nevermind about drag. Nope, no reason at all you'd want to smooth the payload over during launch.

Re:"Hidden" on top of a rocket?!? (1)

sconeu (64226) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254553)

I thought the same thing... I mean, no other payloads EVER get covered by an aerodynamic fairing. Must be a BIG CONSPIRACY!!!!

Disclaimer: I *used* to work for a defense contractor.

Re:"Hidden" on top of a rocket?!? (2)

sconeu (64226) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254565)

Apologies to dsinc. It's not his wording. It's the AP's wording. TFA uses "hidden".

Re:"Hidden" on top of a rocket?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42255319)

Why not use the word cowering or is that just too transparently anti-military for the axe-grinding author?

The space shuttle was visible in launches, attached to the booster rockets. The X-37B is not visible during launches. Maybe it's not the author who has the issues here. What phrasing would you have preferred?

You can see it attached to the Atlas V rocket in the accompanying photos, not 'concealed' or 'hidden' at all, and if you say you can't see it YOU ARE PLAINLY ANTI-MILITARY YOU UN-AMERICAN TERRORIST SCUM.

How about... (2)

tiqui (1024021) | about a year and a half ago | (#42257903)

This would be more accurate: A standard Atlas payload shroud protects the Atlas from the aerodynamics of having an asymmetrical winged vehicle on its nose during the climb to space.

The Atlas was never designed to have a set of wings and tail fins up on its nose generating unbalance lift and drag vectors during ascent (think: arrow with tail feathers relocated to the nose). That's NOT to say that the Atlas could not handle the situation, but rather that the money has not been spent to study the matter sufficiently and to alter the flight software for the guidance system of the Atlas.

It's also important to note that the X-37 was never designed to be exposed during ascent; the wings and tails might not be up to the loads and parts of the top might not be up to the thermal environment (things get pretty hot on the way up from air friction as you accelerate past mach 2 before you get out of the atmosphere) and the vehicle has a different orientation to the airflow from what it has during reentry). As a NASA project, the X-37 was intended to ride to orbit within the payload bay of the shuttle, where it would be deployed for its test mission and then return home on its own. It was only a test vehicle and was not intended to make many operational flights that way.

Re:"Hidden" on top of a rocket?!? (1)

Tactical Lime (2578731) | about a year and a half ago | (#42256333)

Really, they used a rather stealthy explosive fuel mixture to get it into orbit as well.
Only 3.5 million people in the surrounding area witnessed it.
So regardless of the camouflage techniques they used...no one noticed at all.

People too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254533)

A bit of reading also tells us they can fit a module with 6 persons riding it.
So it can be anything riding aboard.

Hidden? (1)

tanujt (1909206) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254561)

Who from?

Not like it's working anyway..

Neural Satellites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254571)

This little baby is either repairing, upgrading or deploying new satellites that interface with the human body. The system uses modified ultra wide-band radar to induce nerve endings into firing. The same system uses the radar to extract return information that betrays neural activity. This is fed into a strong AI-based super computer for decoding and storage. Why a strong AI? Think of turning a human into a puppet and you won't be far off...

you FAIL? it... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254589)

Probably used as a replacement for the shuttle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254643)

Most likely they wanted a spy satellite that they can replace the optics on every year. Now that they can't send the shuttle up, they need a new way to repair and upgrade spy satellites.

one-quarter the size (4, Insightful)

trb (8509) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254695)

These high-tech mystery machines — 29 feet long — are about one-quarter the size of NASA's old space shuttles and can land automatically on a runway.

The X-37B is not one-quarter the size of the Space Shuttle, it's one-quarter the length of the Space Shuttle. The launch weight of the X-37B is 5.5 tons. The launch weight of the Space Shuttle is 125 tons. This ignorance about the meaning of dimensions reminds me of the Stonehenge scene from Spinal Tap.

Re:one-quarter the size (0)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254895)

Size: physical magnitude, extent, or bulk : relative or proportionate dimensions

I'd say both you and the article are correct. You're just using the word size in different context.
And the space shuttle is 82tons without all the external fuel tanks and boosters.

Re:one-quarter the size (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254961)

Last I checked size meant physical dimensions, not mass or weight.

Unless you want to try arguing that two balls, otherwise identical but one made of wood while the other iron, are of a different size?

Re:one-quarter the size (2)

tragedy (27079) | about a year and a half ago | (#42255363)

In terms of physical dimensions, ie volume, this thing is a lot smaller than the shuttle. If it were the same shape as the space shuttle, but a quarter the length, it would have only 1/64th the volume. As it is, 29 feet isn't even one quarter of the length of the space shuttle, but instead more like 1/6th, which puts this craft at something like 1/216th the size of the space shuttle. The X-37B is comparable in size to a large consumer pickup truck. From the weight figures that have been thrown around, it's pretty clear that the X-37B is a lot denser than the shuttle, but that's probably mostly just fuel.

Holy Spilled Secret Batman (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254701)

This thing has be photographed from top to bottom. The internet is for familiar with it than my proctologist is with me. But every story, there have been many lately, talks about top secret and mystery.

There is no secret about this craft. Its future payload may be secret satellites, but it is not a secret. FFS!

Or maybe an ancient Nivenian stasis field to open (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254753)

> "But one scientific observer, Harvard University's Jonathan McDowell
> of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, speculates the
> spaceplane is carrying sensors designed for spying"

Duh, ya think?

No Worries (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254787)

I'm sure it only has 5-6 nukes on board, max.

Good for the USAF (3, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254863)

It's good to see the USAF with some general-purpose space capability. They now have something that can go up to low orbit for a reasonable cost, stay up for a while, and carry a range of payloads. Useful.

Project Thor (1)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254925)

You know some in the military are hoping to use it, if they don't already have a prototype ready to go on the spacecraft, to deliver a "Project Thor" type kinetic weapon system to orbit. While the bay of this thing (7'x 4') wouldn't be able to fit the larger or even medium class Thor weapon, it would be able to fit a smaller one for taking out a motorcade/vehicle/person.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinetic_bombardment [wikipedia.org]

Re:Project Thor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42256769)

You just need lots of the smaller ones and you can wipe out a pretty large surface area. I always thought that breaking up a large rock, maybe not a dinasour killing astoriod but one of the smaller empire state building size ones in orbit would do the trick nicely. (theres lots of the smaller ones in pretty close all the time, if you can navigate to one)

Escape Pods! (1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | about a year and a half ago | (#42254947)

The mini shuttles are obviously escape pods.
I only wonder where the Attack Vessel is to which they belong!

The "hidden" comment is funny (1)

tiqui (1024021) | about a year and a half ago | (#42257921)

The author could have easily chose to say "protected" rather than "hidden". The word "hidden" carries implications ... but in this case the implications are a joke; Even without a payload shroud, the contents of the vehicle would have been blocked from view because they are in a payload bay just like on the shuttles

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