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Space Transportation

Classified X-37B Space Plane Breaks Space Longevity Record 123

Posted by timothy
from the staying-power dept.
itwbennett (1594911) writes "A little-known U.S. space plane quietly broke its own space endurance record this week as its current unmanned mission surpassed 469 days in space. What it was doing up there for so long is a secret closely held by the Air Force, but Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and an authority on satellites and launches, thinks it's serving a similar role as the space shuttle by carrying a science or intelligence payload. 'I believe it's testing some kind of experimental sensor for the National Reconnaissance Office; for example, a hyperspectral imager, or some new kind of signals intelligence package,' said McDowell. 'The sensor was more successful than expected, so the payload customer asked the X-37 folks to keep the spacecraft in orbit longer.'"
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Classified X-37B Space Plane Breaks Space Longevity Record

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  • by globaljustin (574257) <justinglobal@gm a i l . com> on Saturday March 29, 2014 @03:23AM (#46608663) Homepage Journal

    I'd say there's even money that it's essentially a remote control X-Wing fighter.

    It's a scaled down version of what was originally a concept for a next generation shuttle. It's /5 scale from the original design (this all comes from wikipedia)

    I can't imagine it *not* having some sort of weapon or ability to grab/move anything it wants.

    I think it's very important to have these for security reasons. We're to the point where a criminal kingpin could afford to surreptitiously (Russians) put up some sort of ballistic projectile disguised in a different payload or launched independently. Even a crude space weapon can ravage a downtown.

    These drones rock IMHO.

  • Re:Looking for (Score:5, Informative)

    by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet@hotm a i l .com> on Saturday March 29, 2014 @09:50AM (#46609563) Journal

    ...awarded Boeing a $137 million contract for the X-37... That's a bargain. Most commercial passenger jets cost more than that.

    Ah, the hopeless naivete of someone unfamiliar with government contracting for military and aerospace programs.

    The first four years of the program actually cost $192 million [wikipedia.org], though to be fair Boeing "contributed" a nominal $67 million of that, presumably with the expectation of future contracts if the program continued. (Not if it was successful, necessarily, just as long as it continued. And the $67 million probably included significant in-kind contributions of labour and materials, where Boeing would 'bill' itself market rates for parts and labour, rather than their actual internal cost.)

    In 2002, Boeing picked up a subsequent $301 million government contract; their investment paid off quite handsomely. In 2004, the X-37 became a classified DARPA project, so we don't really know how much more it cost over the last decade, but I would be shocked if the total program cost didn't run into ten figures. The first X-37 mission didn't occur until 2010.

    So no--not a 'bargain'. Two modest-sized, unmanned, robotic space vehicles (space drones) at a quarter billion each, plus whatever secret development costs accrued between 2004 and 2010. It's a neat technical achievement, and putting drones in space is certainly less costly than putting warm bodies up there, but don't delude yourself by thinking that it's cheap.

The tree of research must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of bean counters. -- Alan Kay

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