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Space United States Science

X-37B Secret Space Plane To Land Soon 252

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-secret-enough dept.
Phoghat writes "The highly classified X-37B Space Plane is scheduled to land soon. It was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on April 22 atop an Atlas 5 rocket, and the Air Force is still being very secretive on all aspects of the flight. We do know that it's set to touch down at Vandenberg Air Force Base's 15,000-foot runway, originally built for the Space Shuttle program. In many ways, the craft resembles a Shuttle with stubby wings, landing gear and a powerful engine that allows the craft to alter its orbit (much to the dismay of many observers on the ground). Its success has apparently given new life to its predecessor, the X-34, which had been mothballed."
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X-37B Secret Space Plane To Land Soon

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  • Launched April 22? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Saturday November 27, 2010 @06:02PM (#34360314)

    You mean it's been in the air for seven months?

  • Re:Black and White (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday November 27, 2010 @06:08PM (#34360358) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if there is some subtle psychological reasoning behind painting the NASA X-34 white and the military X-37B a shining Darth Vader helmet black....

    At first I thought, "oh, to make it harder to see with a telescope," but then I RTFA and noticed that amateur astronomers have been tracking the thing in orbit, so I guess the paint job is just to make it look cool. Really, though, if I were in charge of a super secret space plane, I'd want it to look cool, too.

    Black surfaces radiate more heat than other surfaces [answers.com] so it is better for a heat shield to be black.

  • by Aqualung812 (959532) on Saturday November 27, 2010 @06:10PM (#34360384)

    You mean it's been in the air for seven months?

    Yup, that's the cool part of it. Imagine the possibilities for an orbiter that is fully automated, can change orbit, and return to Earth & be refueled. Put a nice camera on that & you have a spy sat that can't be tracked easily. You might even be able to put a weapon on that since it can be reloaded.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday November 27, 2010 @06:21PM (#34360474) Journal
    That somebody will explain how our superiority in the highly competitive black-ops space-plane carrying mystery cargo arena will eventually be converted into a solution for the fact that we can't seem to fight a ground war against a 14th century tribal rabble armed with 1950's eastern bloc shit without getting our stuff blown up all the time...
  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Saturday November 27, 2010 @06:41PM (#34360596) Homepage Journal

    These space planes were developed largely in response to fears that the NASA space shuttle program would be cancelled as a result of the Challenger incident in 1986. Further problems with Columbia forced the Air Force to pick up the pace and sealed the fate of the remaining space shuttle program.

  • by wiredlogic (135348) on Saturday November 27, 2010 @06:43PM (#34360612)

    The payload capacity is too small to use for detailed ground observations. We can already scramble a drone in a short time frame if we have actionable intelligence that needs a quick look before a satellite flies over. It is most likely intended to be used for inspection of satellites (think Transformers 2 :)), refueling them, performing simple repairs, and experimenting with spaced based operations.

  • Re:Black and White (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 27, 2010 @06:46PM (#34360630)
    Black items may absorb more light, but they also can radiate heat more effectively. It's not mutually exclusive.
  • by voss (52565) on Saturday November 27, 2010 @06:51PM (#34360674)

    The X-37 proved they could have a shuttle successor without the cost, politics and without Orrin hatch telling them what they had to buy.

  • It has a lot to do with the rule of thumb of needing 4x the "boots on the ground" for an external force to win.

    Do the math, and you know that the only countries with enough people to actually be able to raise up a large enough army to win a ground war in Afghanistan (pop. 30 million) or Iraq (pop. 31 million) are China or India, and that neither has anywhere near enough trained soldiers to even think about it.

    Even Russia, #1 with 21 million troops, couldn't do it.

    Today, it's limited to "Go in, do the job (and make sure you have a clear-cut definition of "the job"), declare victory, and get the heck out." Trying to hold on or succumb to mission creep just gets you stuck in a never-ending morass. Same as Afghanistan was to the Russians, Viet Nam to the US, etc.

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Saturday November 27, 2010 @07:18PM (#34360872) Journal

    Ummmm. no. We could win a war against Afghanistan without putting one person on the group. We could bomb a country like that until not a structure stayed standing and the few who lived would be reduced to living in caves and living off of grass.

    We somehow today equate winning a war with winning over the people and making them love us.

  • by novalis112 (1216168) on Saturday November 27, 2010 @08:34PM (#34361284)
    Tibet vs. China. India vs. The United Kingdom. Kuwait vs. Iraq (1990). Iraq vs. The United States of America (1990).

    In fact...

    A new University of Georgia study has found that despite overwhelming military superiority, the world's most powerful nations failed to achieve their objectives in 39 percent of their military operations since World War II.

    39% hardly equates to *most*.

  • by jjohnson (62583) on Saturday November 27, 2010 @10:07PM (#34361750) Homepage

    I've seen interesting comparisons between Germany/Japan and Afghanistan/Iraq by historians, and they make the point a little more bluntly than you do: Germany and Japan were beaten in war, which is to say the entire country went to war and lost, so the victor rebuilding the country in a friendly fashion was, not a right so much as about what a defeated enemy expected. The population absorbed the psychic shock of losing, of being on the wrong side, and so were receptive to pretty much whatever happened afterwards.

    Not so in Afghanistan and Iraq, where 1) there was little popular identification with the regime in charge, and 2) individuals felt little personal loss when Coalition forces toppled the government in a surgical way. The populace never felt beaten. They never felt like they simply had to accept the replacement government, and judged it in the same way they judged the previous regime: Something outside their personal lives that had to be dealt with, either with acquiescence or insurgency or some straddling of the two options.

    The upshot of this analysis is that it simply wasn't possible to execute "regime change" in Iraq and Afghanistan because the population was never going to be receptive to an American government. Government-by-forceful-imposition is doomed to fail.

  • by the_other_chewey (1119125) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @12:04AM (#34362226)
    The question is a valid one, despite all the ridicule that is being heaped
    on the parent. Why exactly don't we do low-speed, low-friction
    reentries by using the upper atmosphere's low-density layers for slow
    braking?


    Slow reentry is a thing that has been seriously considered for a long time:

    Just slowly drop down in increasingly dense air, use the increasing lift you
    can get there to stay aloft, and wait. After a while, the spacecraft will be
    low and slow enough to land, with much less stress on crew and equipment,
    and without needing any fancy thermal protection shield.

    And that's one of the problems: if your spacecraft has no thermal shield, this is
    the only reentry mode possible. Emergency aborts from orbit? No can do.

    So for manned missions, you better bring a heat shield just in case. And if you
    already bring it, why not just use it? It's faster, easier, and more predictable:

    The low-drag reentry trajectory and duration is dependent on the quite
    variable conditions in the very high parts of the atmosphere. It would be
    impossible to determine an exact flight path - and the point at which the
    spacecraft is slow enough to "just drop" - in advance, up to not even
    knowing on which continent the landing will have to happen.

    Slow reentry is still a very alluing thing (this flaming reentry thing is just
    so archaic, right?), that's why there are always a handful of people working
    on it. At the moment, those are mostly Japanese as far as I know. There's even
    a proposal for a JAXA project for an experiment with paper planes [wikipedia.org]
    as proof-of-concept.

    Slow reentry might eventually become the thing to do, but we'll need a
    lot more confidence in our spacecraft (no need for quick aborts) and
    much more detailed real-time knowledge about atmospheric conditions
    at the edge of space to make it practically viable.
  • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Sunday November 28, 2010 @09:37AM (#34364050)

    I thought rods from god was a good idea until I did the calculations... turns out dropping a 16-ton weight at 4km/sec is the same as about 30 tons of TNT.

    Except it's not the same. The number of Joules released may be the same, but the TNT is an explosion, the rods-from-god is a bullet. Different game. Even a shape-charge can't put all it's energy into one tiny area.

    (15 years or so ago there was a small iron-meteorite impact near here, size of a golf-ball, hit a swampy area, penetrated a metre of water and sludge and a couple of metres of solid rock. Probably had the E(k) of a hand-grenade. Hell of a different outcome though.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 28, 2010 @11:59AM (#34364906)

    While you are right the the total energy may not be impressive, you completely miss the fact that this is a projectile and not an explosive. I suspect that something like this in the form of a guided DU kinetic weapon package would be accurate, silent and deadly. On the other hand, I doubt the economics are there to make something like this viable.

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton

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