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Space The Military Science

X-37B Found By Amateur Sky Watchers 109

otter42 writes "It seems that X-37B couldn't stay hidden forever. Launched a few weeks ago, The Flying Twinkie disappeared shortly after separation. Now it has been found in an orbit that takes it as far north as 40 degrees latitude. No additional information has been found about the spacecraft's capabilities or purpose, except for a US Air Force statement that the satellite has no space-weapons purpose. The X-37B is intended to fly for 9 months at a time, opening the door to possible space longevity experiments in addition to its spying tasks."
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X-37B Found By Amateur Sky Watchers

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  • Re:Remarkable (Score:5, Informative)

    by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @09:39AM (#32313686)

    I...doubt it's the solar panels alone which allow it to stay up there so long. Although, if it runs primarily on solar energy I'm frankly stunned at how powerful solar panels are. Arguably since they're getting pure sunlight rather than atmosphere diffused sunlight it's probably stronger, but still.

    It isn't using solar panels for propulsion. It needs hardly any propulsion, once it's in orbit, since it will naturally tend to stay in its orbit, "flying" by its own momentum (though it will use a bit to counteract the tiny atmospheric resistance that exists even at that altitude). The panels allow it to go on long missions not by keeping it in the sky, but by giving it power to run its computers, comms, and its payload, assuming the payload uses electricity. This avoids the expense of launching very large batteries.

  • "Satellite"? (Score:1, Informative)

    by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @09:40AM (#32313698) Homepage Journal

    Does this spacecraft [wikipedia.org] look like a satellite to you?

  • Re:Remarkable (Score:5, Informative)

    by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @09:47AM (#32313746)
    Forgot to mention that the ISS has been continually powered by solar panels since 1998.
  • Re:Remarkable (Score:5, Informative)

    by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @11:05AM (#32314220) Homepage

    But this thing is a very low earth orbit sattellite. It has a very fast shifting orbit, and it has much more athmospheric drag (though, granted, still not all that much). The orbit is "close" (certainly in space terms), low-latency, but a bit of a bitch to navigate in.

    If we could deploy 100 of these quickly and cheaply we could have fast broadband with tiny latencies everywhere on the planet, from New York to Antarctica (worst case you'd need a roof antenna, and given performance of iridium handsets that's not necessary except in highrises in city centers). Since you have clear line of sight to just about any location on the planet, very high bandwidth applications are within the realm of possibility. Inter-satellite links can use the exact same technology used on fibers (except for the need to aim them), and thus COTS components will get you an inter-sattellite bandwith of 160 Gbit per transmitter, with no real limits on the number of transmitters.

    This is the one technology that truly has the potential of getting high-bandwidth links into outlying rural areas.

    LEO and this type of technology could be the future of the internet. Unstoppable, unfilterable, available anywhere and anytime (because of the possibility of having extreme directionality in the tranceivers, the only real option you have is taking out the satellite, you can't even find who's using this internet connection. Iran and other countries' censorship would be thoroughly fucked), usable with cola can sized devices costing $150 able to link up to playboy online right under the nose of Ahmadinejad. Able to tell any Chinese what happened at Tiananmen, and provide that same porn to increase the customer base.

  • Re:"Satellite"? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @11:48AM (#32314504) Homepage

    Does this look like a satellite to you? Does this?

    Yes, and yes.

    What would have to change about the X-37B to make you think it's a satellite, anyway?

    Maybe take the wings off, and make it non-reusable? Would you consider the space shuttle a "satellite" in any conventional sense of the word? I realize that a satellite is anything that orbits the earth, but you're missing the point here. The GP is implying that this is something MORE than a satellite.

  • Re:Space weapons.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 23, 2010 @11:53AM (#32314550)

    want to see it?
    go to www.heavens-above.com
    for times/magnitude/etc.

  • by ari_j ( 90255 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:29PM (#32314828)
    Or, you know, a practical vehicle for moving cargo or tools from place to place and/or getting through adverse conditions including snow and undeveloped terrain. Granted, many people go too far and get a 1-ton truck with dual rear wheels and a heavy-duty diesel engine and matching transmission and then never one pull a trailer or haul a load, but they are the minority of pickup owners. Most people with that mindset just end up with a Hummer H1 or Corvette.
  • Re:Remarkable (Score:5, Informative)

    by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:51PM (#32314980) Homepage

    What? Somebody still believes the fairytale that satellite access can be better & cheaper (and less wasteful...) from cables and cellular towers? O_o

    In case you didn't notice, the business plan for Iridium was:
    - go in deep debt building ridiculously overpriced communication network, valuable to few customers with much influence (military)
    - go bankrupt
    - debts dissapear
    - rely on profits from said customers with much influence

    Plus Iridium orbit is not much higher than this thing does now; 100 vs 70 satelllites also doesn't make much difference.

  • by Devar ( 312672 ) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @11:06PM (#32319488) Homepage Journal

    The Prompt Global Strike, a prototype that can hit any target around the world in less than an hour, was also launched the same day.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7106714.ece [timesonline.co.uk]

    Have they found that yet?

  • Re:"Satellite"? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Jonathan McDowell ( 515872 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:40AM (#32320322) Homepage

    I had someone from the Beeb prepping an interview on the Japanese solar sail probe last week who kept calling it a "space shuttle"., apparently under the impression that that was a general term for anything that went into space. Sigh. I propose the following correct astronomical and astronautical senses of 'satellite':

    1) Any object in closed orbit around another object of larger mass (the most general sense, considered a loose usage: "the Earth is a satellite of the Sun" is rare, although "The Ikaros probe is a satellite of the Sun" does crop up. By 'closed' orbit I am excluding hyperbolic orbits - Voyager 2 was not a satellite of Saturn when it flew past.)
    2) A natural celestial body in closed orbit around a nonstellar object of larger mass; a "natural satellite": "Phobos is a satellite of Mars". All known examples to date are rocky bodies, but one could imagine a Neptune orbiting a super-Jovian... the boundary between 'satellite and primary' and 'binary world' is fuzzy, as has been pointed out in the case of the Earth-Moon and Pluto-Charon systems.
    3) An artificial object in closed orbit around any larger mass body: an "artificial satellite". "Space Shuttle Atlantis is an artificial satellite; the ISS is the largest artifiical Earth satellite; Cassini is an artificial satellite of Saturn". "The spacewalker's tool bag floated off and is now a separate artificial satellite" - so this includes all space debris objects. ("orbit" here implies gravitationally dominated motion: when Atlantis makes a flyaround of the ISS, it is not a satellite of the ISS. But possibly Luke's X-wing fighter, if his engines go out, is a satellite of the Death Star, even though the Death Star is artificial....)
    4) An artificial satellite payload. "The satellite separated from the launch vehicle final stage". This is a narrower sense - satellite with a functionally useful payload as opposed to inert orbiting object.
    5) A functioning artificial satellite payload. "How many satellites are there orbiting the Earth right now?". Often the questioner just means the ones that are still working.
    6) An artificial satellite payload that does not include design provisions for carrying humans (i.e. is not a 'spaceship'), propulsion intended to send it onto a hyperbolic orbit after a brief stay in parking orbit (i.e. is not a 'space probe'), or aerosurfaces intended to provide controlled reentry and landing (i.e. is not a 'spaceplane'). This even narrower sense is the one being used by the original poster: a 'satellite' is an 'ordinary' spacecraft that isn't in any of these more interesting categories (but for some reason, other interesting categories: satellites with tethers for example, don't matter...).

    I encounter frequent confusion caused by people mixing senses 3,4 and 5. Especially when they are asking me questions along the lines of the one in 5.
    The X-37 clearly meets the definitions in senses 1, 3, 4 and 5, and so is a satellite *in those senses* even though one can argue that it's not *simply* a satellite per sense 6.. I, however, argue that sense 6, while valid nontechnical English by moderately widespread usage, should be eschewed by readers of slashdot as too muddily defined.

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson