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After a Year In Orbit, US Air Force's X37-B Will Conclude Its Secret Mission 243

Posted by timothy
from the and-boy-is-it-tired dept.
SomePgmr writes "The U.S Air Force's highly secret unmanned space plane will land in June — ending a year-long mission in orbit. The experimental Boeing X37-B has been circling Earth at 17,000 miles per hour and was due to land in California in December. It is now expected to land in mid to late June. And still, no one knows what the space drone has been doing up there all this time."
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After a Year In Orbit, US Air Force's X37-B Will Conclude Its Secret Mission

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  • Secret? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RivenAleem (1590553) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @10:33AM (#40219207)

    How secret can it be if we know it happened? What we really have to worry/consider are the things that we never even know happen, not just "don't know their purpose."

    If the general community know that this 'secret' spaceplane was up there doing stuff, then you can guarantee that it wasn't doing anything sensitive, though possibly classified. When they do really important and secret things, you can guarantee that we never even know it happened at all.

  • by Talderas (1212466) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:41AM (#40220073)

    I have a suspicion. It's a simple one too.

    This is a drone that is designed to land. When a craft exits orbit and enters our atmosphere there have been three three styles of entries. There are those which burn up. There are those like the Soyuz, Dragon, and Apollo capsules. There was a space shuttle. The drone is obviously meant to reenter like the space shuttle in some fashion.

    One thing that has been desirable has been to keep surveillance drones in flight for as long as possible. The longest shuttle mission was 17 days and 15 hours. This drone has been up there for a year before coming down.

    The Chinese have demonstrated that they have the ability to shoot down satellites so a drone spy satellite that has good maneuverability in orbit would be a plus.

    I think they're aiming to replace spy satellites with these drones and this was a test to see if a drone can stay up in space for a long duration and still arrive back on ground intact for repairs or to upgrade its system.

  • Re:Fast (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @01:57PM (#40222233) Homepage

    The hazmat suites are for hydrazine. Nasty stuff.

    If you've ever watched a Shuttle landing to the point where they're letting the crew out, the first people to arrive are the fire trucks, then folks in Hazmat suites to make sure that there is no unreacted hydrazine (from the Reaction Control System) leaking around. It's very, very volatile. The XB-37 Wikipedia article describes shifting the main engine off the hydrogen perioxide (which at the concentrations used is pretty nasty stuff in and of itself) but they may still have hydrazine for the control thrusters.

    Besides, they look cool and let you know that the Air Force means business.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @05:05PM (#40225133) Homepage

    One thing that has been desirable has been to keep surveillance drones in flight for as long as possible. The longest shuttle mission was 17 days and 15 hours. This drone has been up there for a year before coming down.

    Yeah, because it was essentially a satellite in orbit around the earth. We already have spy satellites, and have had them for a lot longer than we have had drones.

    The reason why we're using a lot of drones now, despite already having satellites, is because the drones can maintain a lengthy continuous presence over a specific location, rather than passing over that location at regular intervals in an orbit which can be discovered and then worked around. In terms of amount of time continuously observing an area of interest, this space plane has vastly lower numbers than any UAV -- just like all spy satellites.

    If you are picturing this being used for surveillance, then what they showed is not a drone with an extremely long loiter time. It's a satellite with an extremely short orbital life span.

    I think they're aiming to replace spy satellites with these drones and this was a test to see if a drone can stay up in space for a long duration and still arrive back on ground intact for repairs or to upgrade its system.

    If the military has upgraded equipment they want to put in a spy satellite, they just launch a new one. They have no need to recover old ones (unlike back in the day when spy satellites used film), so they just let the old one deorbit.

    To figure out what the X37 is for, we need to figure out why the military would need it back. Spy satellite doesn't fit the bill at all.

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