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Space NASA Science

Air Force Spaceplane Readying For Launch 94

Posted by Soulskill
from the pushing-baby-shuttles-from-the-nest dept.
FleaPlus writes "The US Air Force is currently preparing for the launch of the secretive X-37B OTV-1 (Orbital Test Vehicle 1) spaceplane, which was transferred from NASA to DARPA back in 2004 when NASA opted to focus its budget on lunar exploration. The reusable unmanned spaceplane is set to launch in April on top of a commercial Atlas V rocket, orbit for up to 270 days while testing a number of new technologies, reenter the atmosphere, then land on auto-pilot in California."
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Air Force Spaceplane Readying For Launch

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  • Re:Cool! (Score:5, Informative)

    by vlm (69642) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @11:20AM (#31472236)

    Wings on a space cargo mover add a lot of unnecessary weight that people should have concluded is more detrimental than useful. The space industry has ways to launch objects without big, heavy wings and even without a crew.

    Oh, they've got plenty of ways to launch stuff without those big ole wings.

    Amusingly, you're missing that the only possible use for wings on a re-entry vehicle is military...

    The shuttle had them for two military reasons. The USAF kicked in a bunch of cash, or at least promised to, in exchange for:

    1) Massive LANDING capacity. Grab that low earth orbit USSR spy satellite and examine it at your leisure. The USSR response is of course high earth orbit, making them less effective, and wasting satellite mass on things like self destruct systems. Much like nuclear weapons, the plan was never to actually use it, but to manipulate the other side's behavior... Why the USAR wanted the USSR out of low earth orbit in the 70s is a mystery to me. Maybe discourage orbital bombardment or space based ground attack lasers or something.

    2) Abort once around and very strange orbit and reentry profiles. So you launch, do whatever cloak and dagger stuff you want, then you want to immediately land, like "NOW". Meanwhile the earth rotates underneath you. So put big old wings on to glide. So what if the L/D ratio averages only 3:1 if you start 200 miles up, that's 600 miles crossrange. Since the shuttle program promised everything to everyone, I'm sure a shuttle-class runway is accessible every 1200 miles or so, at least with a lot of imagination and creative hot-dog piloting. Also, if the Bulgarians threaten to shoot down any military overflight spacecraft, you can simply pick a bizarre orbit to avoid them, with a bizarre reentry requiring some gliding around. The ability to land anywhere at any time somewhat limits their ability to screw around with us, including watching our vehicles with their telescopes. Extra glide range adds a lot of capability to military flight plans. Civilians, of course, would simply wait and deorbit at a better time/place, but the military "needs" more capability.

  • by downix (84795) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @12:33PM (#31472700) Homepage

    You are thinking the X-33, and it was designed to be a scale model of the eventual craft, Venture Star.

    Aerospike is just one approach, the one favored by one of the major rocket engine producers, Rocketdyne. Fundimentally, it works as an inverted rocket bell, using the outside air to contain the thrust. It is 90% as efficient as a traditional engine optimized for a particular section of the atmosphere, with the advantage that it keeps the same performance all throughout the atmospheric run.

    The other major rocket engine producer, Aerojet, instead is pushing forward a rocket "afterburner, the Thrust Augmented Nozzle. Using a TAN, a traditioninal Hydrolox engine would have kerosene and oxygen injected directly to the engine bell, reducing the overall impulse while greatly improving the thrust, ideal for liftoff, while then throttling back the kerolox to the space-optimized high-isp hydrolox once out of the atmosphere, and smoothly transitioning between the two by throttling back the augmentation, keeping the performance optimized throughout the whole range of operation for what was needed.

    I agree, developing the technologies first gives us far more capability. In addition, if you truely want to return to the moon, ULA, the primary rocket manufacturer in the US, has put on the table a proposal to do just that, with the existing non-shuttle lifting technology, while simultaneously reducing the cost to LEO through mass production. You can read their proposal here:

    http://www.ulalaunch.com/docs/publications/AffordableExplorationArchitecture2009.pdf [ulalaunch.com]

  • by M1FCJ (586251) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @12:35PM (#31472720)

    Reminds me of the Gemini project. A lot of people conveniently forget that the Gemini project was born out of USAF's manned space programme and was inserted into NASA's plans. That's why it flew on Titans. Originally there was no spacecraft between Apollo and Mercury projects. Gemini was the most successful projects of all manned flights where a huge number of firsts were established.

    In the end MOL got cancelled, Military space programme was cancelled and NASA's budget was cut and eventually most of the Apollo projects were cancelled even before Apollo 11, more after that. Don't blame Obama for NASA's state, blame Bush with his lofty targets and no additional budget for the named targets... The result was a useless spacecraft - does anyone remember the original spec of 7 astronauts? It couldn't hardly do four as its last design, decades after Apollo.

  • Re:270 days (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 14, 2010 @12:59PM (#31472894)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rods_from_god

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 14, 2010 @01:15PM (#31473000)

    You have it backwards. The USAF X-20 Dyna-Soar and X-15 programs were well underway until Gemini and Apollo came along and took all the funding and personnel. Now 50 years later they're trying to complete what the X-20 program started.

    The X-15 program spent 2.5 billion and made 199 flights.
    The X-20 program spent 1.5 billion before it was canceled.
    Apollo cost 22.5 billion.

    Note that NASA used much of the data gathered from these two programs and as such did not have to incur those costs.

  • Re:Cool! (Score:3, Informative)

    by DrBuzzo (913503) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @01:39PM (#31473172) Homepage
    It would not have been that hard for the Soviet Union to launch a spy satellite that was not recoverable by the Space Shuttle. The Shuttle has fairly limited orbital insert options. Most spy satellites are in polar orbits anyway, and the shuttle can't do that - although there was, at one time, a plan that would have enabled it to do so with launches from Vandenberg using a super light weight fiber-spun tank. That never went anywhere.

    Even if a satellite was in an orbit that the shuttle could get to, bringing it back? Not so easy if it won't fit neatly in the cargo bay and doesn't have some place to grasp with the Canadarm. It would also be dangerous to bring down a payload with unknown characteristics and potentially hazardous materials and functions. You really don't want it to start venting hydrazine in the cargo bay while reentering the atmosphere. Or for that matter, you don't even want to go close enough to it to "wave a geiger counter" if you don't know what the hell the satellite is going to do like fire thrusters or even use a defensive system (the Soviets actually did test on-orbit use of anti-aircraft cannons, adapted for space use)

    But on the topic of recovering payloads from orbit and bringing them back: Yeah, it is fairly obsolete given that film no longer needs to be recovered and because the Space Shuttle is so expensive to launch that bringing back a damaged satellite for repair would be a lot more expensive than launching a new one. It's not **completely** obsolete though. There are still some special circumstances where a research payload may be worth recovering, like the Long Duration Exposure Facility or some other kind of research payload intended to be analyzed after a mission of some kind. That's a fairly narrow and specialized circumstance, of course.
  • Re:Cool! (Score:3, Informative)

    by dbIII (701233) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @09:41PM (#31477014)
    You can get a good idea yourself very easily since it is a two dimensional problem.
    You want to go from a high velocity in the X direction and zero in the Y direction to zero in the X direction and high velocity in the Y direction.
    In other words around as much fuel as it took to get it up there in the first place.
    You can't just turn it like a boat since there's nothing to push against so a rudder won't work.

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