Secretive X-37B Space Plane Launches on New Mystery Mission
2011-03-07 0:00

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.

Mysterious mini-shuttle

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





Related Articles
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

Thousands of migrants dumped on Britain as French wriggle out of border promise
2015-03-30 19:56
Thousands of migrants could be dumped on Britain’s doorstep if France tears up a historic border agreement, it was claimed last night. Officials have vowed to do “everything in their power” to wriggle out of a treaty moving the UK border to Calais. The besieged town’s mayor Natacha Bouchart is prepared to spark a major diplomatic row by opening the frontier ...
Richard III laid to rest at Leicester Cathedral
2015-03-30 18:36
King Richard III was today laid to rest at Leicester Cathedral - more than 500 years after his death in battle. The monarch, who reigned from 1483 to 1485, was the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch read a poem by Carol Ann Duffy during the service. Also in attendance was Robert Lindsay, who played Richard III in a version ...
Sweden - A new paradise for Romani beggars
2015-03-30 17:33
Thanks to the European Union and freedom of movement that follows with membership Sweden has been flooded with gypsies from Eastern Europe. Most member states have cracked down hard on the phenomenon of organized begging with legislation and forceful evictions so the Romani (colloquially known as Gypsies) who are engaged in this venture have moved their business to the country where ...
Increased tax subsidies for politically correct media
2015-03-29 22:08
On Dec 9 last year I translated a random snapshot of the biggest newspaper in Sweden. The headlines alone spoke for themselves. It was, simply put, an orgy of political correctness, obvious attempts at emotional manipulation and general national self-loathing. In other words, a typical Swedish newspaper on any given day. As more and more readers are waking up to the ...
When obeying the law and supporting yourself is racist
2015-03-29 22:56
There is a huge scandal in the municipality of Älmhult in Sweden. It has been revealed that there is a letter that may have been sent from the municipality offices to newly arrived immigrants informing them that the law applies to them and that they’re expected to eventually go off the dole and start pulling their own weight in society. In ...
More News »