Secretive X-37B Space Plane Launches on New Mystery Mission
By Mike Wall | Space.com
After being delayed a day by bad weather, the U.S. Air Force’s second X-37B robotic space plane blasted off from Florida this afternoon (March 5) on a mystery mission shrouded in secrecy.
The Air Force’s second X-37B space plane soars toward space atop an Atlas 5 rocket after launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 5, 2011.
CREDIT: United Launch Alliance
The unmanned X-37B mini-shuttle — known as Orbital Test Vehicle 2 (OTV-2) — took to the skies from Cape Canaveral at 5:46 p.m. EST (2246 GMT) today, tucked away in the nose cone atop a huge Atlas 5 rocket.
"Liftoff of the Atlas 5 rocket and the second experimental X-37B, America’s miniature military space shuttle," the Air Force Space Command wrote in a Twitter post as the Atlas 5 streaked into the Florida skies.
The space plane was originally scheduled to launch yesterday, but cloudy, windy conditions scrubbed two attempts. And a technical glitch caused the X-37B to miss a launch window earlier this afternoon; a faulty valve had to be replaced in a last-minute repair.
The X-37B’s mission is classified, but Air Force officials have said the vehicle will be used to test out new spacecraft technologies. Shortly after launch, the mission went into a scheduled media blackout, with no futher public updates.
Today’s launch marks the start of the X-37B program’s second space mission. The Air Force’s other X-37B plane, known as OTV-1, returned to Earth in December 2010 after a similarly mysterious seven-month maiden mission.
The X-37B spacecraft looks a bit like NASA’s space shuttles, only much smaller. The vehicle is about 29 feet long by 15 feet wide (8.8 by 4.5 meters), with a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed. By comparison, two entire X-37Bs could fit inside the payload bay of a space shuttle.
The space plane, built by Boeing for the U.S. military, can fly long, extended missions because of its solar array power system, which allows it to stay in orbit for up to nine months, Air Force officials have said.
What exactly the vehicle does while circling the Earth for so long is a mystery, since the craft’s payloads and missions are classified. Partly as a result of the secrecy, some concern has been raised — particularly by Russia and China — that the X-37B is a space weapon of some sort.
But the Air Force has repeatedly denied that charge, claiming that the X-37B’s chief task is testing out new hardware for future satellites — instruments like sensors and guidance, control and navigation systems. And that’s likely to be the case, experts say.
"It gives the Air Force the ability to test-fly some of this hardware," said Brian Weeden, a former Air Force orbital analyst who works as a technical adviser for the nonprofit Secure World Foundation.
Weeden suspects the X-37B is testing gear for the National Reconnaissance Office, the intelligence agency that builds and operates the U.S.’s spy satellites. That would explain all the secrecy, he said.
CREDIT: Karl Tate, SPACE.com
Second mission for the X-37B
The Air Force’s other X-37B, known as OTV-1, launched last April and returned in December after spending 224 days in space. While its mission was also classified, technology-testing was OTV-1’s primary job, too, Air Force officials have said.
And things presumably went well, experts say, or the Air Force wouldn’t be launching the craft’s twin a few short months later.
While the X-37B is likely trying out new hardware, the vehicle itself is experimental — hence the "X" designation — so these flights should also help the Air Force assess the space plane as well as its payload.
"Part of its mission is to test out reusable technologies and to see how quickly they can turn around these vehicles and launch them again," Weeden said.
Boeing’s Space and Intelligence Systems division builds the X-37B for the Air Force. Originally, NASA used the space plane as an experimental test bed until funding for the project ran out in 2004.
The vehicle then passed to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and was ultimately turned over to the Air Force in 2006.
Article from: space.com
China’s Secret Satellite Rendezvous ‘Suggestive of a Military Program’
Germany and US developing secret satellite
Australia and US sign secret satellite spy deal (Video)
Big Ears: ’Largest’ secret spy hub uncovered in Israel
The TR-3B secret Aurora Triangle UFO (Video)
NASA sells shuttle PCs without wiping secret data
Secretive X-37B Robot Space Plane Returns to Earth on Autopilot - What was the Mission?
What Kind Of Top-Secret Assassination Tech Does $58 Billion Buy?
Russian Scholar Warns Of ’Secret’ U.S. Climate Change Weapon
Latest News from our Front Page
CDC official called Obama 'Marxist,' 'amateur' over border surge...
Following the influx of illegal immigrant minors from Central America, an official at the federal agency charged with protecting public health describes Barack Obama as "the worst pres we have ever had," an â€œamateur" and "Marxist," according to internal emails obtained by Judicial Watch.
JW got the records as part of an investigation into the Center for Disease Controlâ€™s (CDC) activation ...
Obama Administration Likely to Block New Redskins Stadium
The Obama administration will likely block Washington, D.C., authorities from building a new stadium for the NFLâ€™s Washington Redskins because of objections to the teamâ€™s name.
The National Park Service (NPS) owns the land under the 54-year-old Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, a venue two miles east of the Capitol that hosted the Redskins from 1961 to 1996. Some city leaders ...
Safe spaces, white tears and getting kicked out of a women's group - by two men
Lately I've been kicked out of a couple of groups I belong to, for daring to question received wisdom or refusing to go along with the rules of identity politics.
For instance, I was thrown out my university women's group -- by two men! -- for questioning an article on Jezebel about "cultural appropriation."
They explained that the group was supposed to ...
Ghost rider in the sky: Scientists use lasers to project movie onto clouds
A green ghost rider appeared in the sky over the British city of Nottingham when scientists started testing a newly developed projecting device which allows the beaming of moving images directly onto clouds for the first time ever.
The image of a galloping horse rider was projected onto the clouds from a distance of 50 meters by a special laser-based projection ...
Chinaâ€™s stock market is crashing, and the Chinese are trying to do the exact same thing America did in 1929
â€˜While European attention is focused on Greece, China is having a serious market meltdown.
After exploding earlier in the year because of deregulation, Chinaâ€™s benchmark Shanghai Composite has collapsed a crazy 29% since the highs of early June. Chinaâ€™s other stock markets have had similarly steep falls.
Bloomberg notes that the crisis is closely mirroring the 1929 Wall Street crash, which led ...
|More News » |