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The Military Transportation Science

US Air Force Launches Secret Flying Twinkie 234

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the that's-one-big-twinkie dept.
Spectrummag writes "One of the most secretive US Air Force spaceflights in decades, launched this month, is keeping aficionados guessing as to the nature of the secret. The 6000-kilogram, 8-meter X-37B, nicknamed the flying Twinkie because of its stubby-winged shape, is supposed to orbit Earth for several weeks, maneuver in orbit, then glide home. What's it for? Space expert James Oberg tracks the possibilities."
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US Air Force Launches Secret Flying Twinkie

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  • by Tekfactory (937086) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @01:43PM (#32088110) Homepage

    Some more speculation from the Register based on the same reasons that the shuttle had such large wings, this gives it cross-range capability to launch and return in a singular polar orbit.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/21/x37b_secret_launch_options/ [theregister.co.uk]

  • Re:I'll say it... (Score:4, Informative)

    by MonsterTrimble (1205334) <monstertrimble@h ... m ['il.' in gap]> on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @01:45PM (#32088162)

    From IMDB [imdb.com]:

    Dr. Egon Spengler: I'm worried, Ray. It's getting crowded in there and all my data points to something big on the horizon.
    Winston Zeddemore: What do you mean, big?
    Dr. Egon Spengler: Well, let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. Based on this morning's sample, it would be a Twinkie... thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.
    Winston Zeddemore: That's a big Twinkie.

  • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @02:00PM (#32088372)

    X-15 and Dynasoar were first generation reusable.

    Shuttle and Buran were second generation.

    Yes, reusable have proven to be the way to go, but other forms of transport aren't going 17,500 miles an hour, getting up to 5,000 degrees and going millions of miles.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-109 [wikipedia.org] - 3.9 million miles
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-80 [wikipedia.org] - 7 million miles

  • by mbone (558574) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @02:24PM (#32088722)

    Because the X-37 is a NASA program and the X-37b started out as a NASA program.That is why there are pictures of it on Google images.

    Trust me, real secret military spacecraft you learn about 20 years later.

  • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @02:26PM (#32088746)

    Is Virgin Galactic SS1 going into orbit?

    No.

    Is Virgin Galactic SS2 going to go 3 million miles a mission and reach 17,500 miles an hour?

    No.

    SS2 is a VW T2 Microbus to the Shuttle/Buran being Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4s

    SS2 will reach 2600 mph and 68 miles for up to 10 minutes of weightlessness
    Shuttle reaches 17,580 mph and up to 385 miles for up to 17 days

    Apples and grapes.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @02:48PM (#32089074) Journal

    First off, while the article is a good one, it was actually written before launch. After the launch, there have been some intriguing details, particularly the fact that NOBODY outside of the classified world has been able to actually locate it in the sky. Normally amateur skywatchers are pretty good at locating satellites after they've launched, but apparently not in this case. Here's two possible explanations for this:

    * the X-37B is testing low-visibility features, possibly either a stealthy payload shroud, low-visibility solar panels, or some other sort of camouflage/stealth system
    * One possibility posited by Jim Oberg (the article author) elsewhere is that this may be the first test ever of an atmospheric orbital plane change, a technique desired since the 90s or earlier, where a spaceplane uses its wings to dip into the atmosphere while travelling at hypersonic speeds to alter its trajectory. The X-37B apparently doesn't have a high enough L/D ratio to perform an extreme plane change (e.g. near-equatorial to polar), but it may be able to alter its trajectory enough to make it damn hard to track from the ground.

    Now, some people have been asking why a reusable spaceplane would be useful to the US Air Force. Some possibilities:
    * The atmospheric plane change capability mentioned above, which would allow the Air Force to deploy satellites into trajectories unknown by those observed. One major problem with satellites is that other countries typically know when they'll be overhead, so they just make sure that anything they're trying to hide doesn't occur during those hours.
    * If you add a retrieval arm or some other docking interface, you can potentially use the craft to alter the trajectory of existing satellites
    * Although the X-37B was launched on an expendable Atlas V rocket, the Air Force recently put out a solicitation for proposals [hobbyspace.com] for a first-stage Reusable Booster System utilizing a technique known as boost-back. With boost-back, after the booster boosts the payload and/or 2nd stage, it then does a 180 and boosts/glides back to a landing strip so that it can be easily reused. Lockheed Martin tested a secretive prototype of such a system (which they dubbed "Revolver") a couple years ago. If you combine such Reusable Boosters with a beefier successor to the X-37B, you have a rapid-launch reusable "surge" capability long desired by the Air Force. Such a surge capability could be useful when you need to quickly launch many satellites, such as when you need to deploy many satellites over a particular region in wartime or many of your satellites are knocked out by anti-satellite weapons or solar storms. Currently the Air Force has to wait for several weeks or months per satellite.

    For anybody interested in watching video of the launch (a rather beautiful launch of the Atlas V rocket), you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdCpuv9RCwE [youtube.com]

    Also, for those who are interested in finding out more, there's a lot of good discussion with plenty of current and former space professionals (including some posts by Jim Oberg, the author of the submission article) over at this NASASpaceFlight.com thread on the X-37B: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=21122.285 [nasaspaceflight.com]

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@nosPam.gmail.com> on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @05:55PM (#32091498) Homepage

    The original version would have had a titanium body rather than ceramic shingles...but our only source of titanium was in a country that was then considered likely to go communist. So the engineers were told to come up with another design. Some other changes were made to make it cheaper to build (rather than maintain). Etc.

    Wrong on every count.
     
    There is no 'original' version of the Shuttle - but there were a couple of dozen competing designs and concepts, some of which used ceramic tiles while others used titanium or other exotic metals in the form of shingles. However shingles were not only very (very) expensive and considerably heavier than tiles, the engineering work required to develop the shingles would have been considerably greater. Nor is there any evidence whatsoever that the thin shingles and their complex system of attachment to the structure (to deal with both thermal expansion of the tiles and thermal expansion of the structure, ditto with vibration) would have been any cheaper to build or operate than the ceramic tiles.
     
    To the extent that NASA was discouraged from using titanium, that was because of the increasing and projected to further increase demand for titanium by the USAF and USN. In the end the superbombers and deep divers that would have used all that titanium were all cancelled in the late 60's and early 70's because of their expense.
     
    Oh wait, wasn't the Shuttle budget sharply limited at the same time? Shit, it was. So much for your bean counter theory - the whole budget was being sharply trimmed around then. Sorry to introduce another fact showing how even more wrong you are, but I like completeness and accuracy.
     
     

    If you want to draw a lesson, it should probably be that you don't want bean-counters to design your equipment. Possibly it's reasonable to give them a veto on building it (as in "We can't afford that, sorry."), but no input on the design level.

    Duh, that's exactly what happened. The engineers offered a design and the bean counters (or more correctly the engineers responsible for cost estimation) said "no way Jose", and the rest of the engineers went back to the drawing board.
     

    OTOH, if that had been the case, the shuttle wouldn't have been built. Would that have been better? Perhaps. In that case Saturn would have been kept viable.

    Well, seeing as you're wrong about the bean counters and the Shuttle, it's only symmetrical that you're wrong about the Saturn being viable. It's one of only two launch systems that make the Shuttle look like a bargain. (The other being the late and unlamented Titan IV.)

  • Re:I'll say it... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:40PM (#32093258)

    it would be a Twinkie... thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.

    Sadly, this scientific inaccuracy spoils my willing suspension of disbelief for this film. A 35-foot twinkie ought to weigh about 50 tons. See, for example Twinkie analysis [mctague.org].

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