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SpaceX Rocket Launches X-37B Space Plane On Secret Mission, Aces Landing (space.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: The fifth mystery mission of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane is now underway. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the robotic X-37B lifted off today (Sept. 7) at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. About 2.5 minutes into the flight, the Falcon 9's two stages separated. While the second stage continued hauling the X-37B to orbit, the first stage maneuvered its way back to Earth, eventually pulling off a vertical touchdown at Landing Zone 1, a SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is next door to KSC. The Air Force is known to possess two X-37Bs, both of which were built by Boeing. The uncrewed vehicles look like NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiters, but are much smaller; each X-37B is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a payload bay the size of a pickup truck bed. For comparison, the space shuttles were 122 feet (37 m) long, with 78-foot (24 m) wingspans. Like the space shuttle, the X-37B launches vertically and comes to back to Earth horizontally, in a runway landing. Together, the two X-37Bs have completed four space missions, each of which has set a new duration standard for the program. Exactly what the X-37B did during those four missions, or what it will do during the newly launched OTV-5, is a mystery; most X-37B payloads and activities are classified.
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SpaceX Rocket Launches X-37B Space Plane On Secret Mission, Aces Landing

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  • What about Irma? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Friday September 08, 2017 @02:33AM (#55157569) Journal

    Just wondering, now that they have an 11 story (I think) tall empty, lightweight booster sitting on the pad, will they be able to get in indoors before Irma comes and literally blows it away?

    Even if they do, are the structures strong enough to take a direct hit? (I guess so, they've been around since the space age).

    Kudo's as always to Space X and their flabbergastingly awesome repeat landings of their booster stages! No matter how cheap the competition (China?) makes their expendable boosters, you can't beat reusing them. I understand that the Falcon Heavy has passed its engine tests (a cluster of three Falcon 9s). Good luck for their November launch! Please, please make getting to orbit 10x then 100x cheaper! (Unrealistic maybe but I can dream).

    Too bad that the X-37Bs don't have enough delta-V to get themselves to orbit without using a second stage (with external fuel tanks?). Then we'd have an (almost) completely reusable launch system!

    • Re:What about Irma? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 08, 2017 @02:51AM (#55157621)

      Main Cape hangar that SpaceX has is rated for strong Cat 4.

      Most of the Cape infrastructure is rated to handle Cat 3.

      They are pretty quick in getting the booster horizontal and carted away. I would expect it to be in a hangar today, well before Irma gets there.

      I'm bit more worried about the two older spec boosters that they have stored outdoors... tho I'd assume they can find some place to stash them into before the storm gets there. These are boosters that are not planned to fly again, but might end up as museum pieces somewhere.

    • Falcon 9 first stages do have enough delta-V to get to orbit by themselves - no 2nd stage. But with virtually no payload, and no way to get back down. So not much point in it.
  • Video... (Score:5, Informative)

    by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Friday September 08, 2017 @02:56AM (#55157631)

    Here's the video webcast, [youtube.com] in case you missed it. (22min) Does not include 2nd stage coverage, since it's classified.

    • Does not include 2nd stage coverage, since it's classified.

      Well, here on Slashdot, "Nudes for Nerds", we always say, "GIFs or it didn't happen!"

      Not to split too many hairs, but if it's "classified" . . . this kinda sorta of implies that it is "classified as something". Like, "classified as safe for human consumption", or "classified as very likely to start WWIII on the Korean Peninsula".

      So what is this critter classified as . . . ?

      On another note, I would just absolutely love to see SpaceX hire the late Gerry Anderson to design their spacecrafts.

      That would be

    • I love the way they describe the X-37B, as a platform for perfectly normal scientific experiments, nothing more, yet the trajectory is classified. Yeah, right.

  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Friday September 08, 2017 @02:59AM (#55157641) Journal
    I can't wait to see them launching three at a time (Falcon Heavy)!!!!
    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday September 08, 2017 @06:23AM (#55158041) Homepage

      Amazing that the fact that landing skyscraper-sized objects with pinpoint accuracy after a hypersonic reentry from outer-freaking-space has now become "boring" ;)

      I love living in the future.

      • You forgot doing that on the edge of a hurricane.

      • Going to the moon got boring after six trips. That was almost half a century ago.
        • by ncc74656 ( 45571 ) *
          It didn't even take all six trips for the press to consider going to the moon "boring." Apollo 13 had trouble getting media coverage until the shit hit the fan, and then they were all over it like white on rice.
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Amazing that the fact that landing skyscraper-sized objects with pinpoint accuracy after a hypersonic reentry from outer-freaking-space has now become "boring" ;) I love living in the future.

        Not to take away your personal sense of awe and wonder, but I think most people for the last few hundred centuries has felt that way. Apollo program? The wonder. Radio? The wonder. Horseless carriages? The wonder. Electricity? The wonder. Telephones? The wonder. Airplanes? The wonder. Photography? The wonder. It just happens to be what is possible now, that wasn't possible when you were born. The next generation will think, duh rockets land. They've always landed, what's the big deal. It would be kinda fun

        • by torkus ( 1133985 )

          I'd rather go backwards and show them all the cool stuff...granted I'd be hanged as a heretic in about 15 minutes (or die from the plague) but who cares?

          I'd still have my 15 minutes.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    i don't think anybody is really wondering what this 'secret' could be. expect some flattering closeups of dprk's supreme leader and his arsenal, along with companion shots of nearby chinese activity, to be sitting on analysts desks by the end of the weekend.

  • They are probably doing nifty quantum entanglement experiments. But that is a ruse - the true mission is to see how well a Hostess Twinkie's "freshness" is sustained when exposed to a hard vacuum and unadulterated solar and cosmic radiation.
    • "...the true mission is to see how well a Hostess Twinkie's "freshness" is sustained when exposed to a hard vacuum and unadulterated solar and cosmic radiation."

      The intelligence community is saying Kim Jung Un's recent nuclear tests have a similar purpose.

  • I remember Elon Musk said that the AI could can cause the WW3. I've got an impression at that time that he was kind of a pacifist.
    • I remember Elon Musk said that the AI could can cause the WW3. I've got an impression at that time that he was kind of a pacifist.

      It's all about the adulation for Musk... He will say anything to get folks to praise him, especially if it means he gets rich at the same time. it's his way of proving to himself that the taunts of his childhood are not true.

    • I remember Elon Musk saying that reality is a simulation. Which makes any fears about AI a moot point. But cranks are under no obligation to be consistent.
  • Exactly what the X-37B did during those four missions, or what it will do during the newly launched OTV-5, is a mystery; most X-37B payloads and activities are classified.

    It is believed top officials of Russia and China already know what those activities are. We expect soon a Russian counterpart of Edward Snowdon to release the Russian government hacked documents and anonymous and WikiLeaks to publish it. .... Just kidding. Not going to happen. They (top officials of all three countries) know. We will never know.

  • Say what you will (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Friday September 08, 2017 @06:31AM (#55158067)
    Elon Musk is someone a lot of people love to hate. Say what you will, but I think this tech is fucking awesome and he's the one who made it possible. He's a dreamer with the unique ability to make some of his dreams come true. I'm also very happy because I knew private spaceflight was possible when I was younger, only I was never in a position to be able to prove it. I was laughed at more than once. This is a sort of vindication for me.
    • Simple logic argument you could have used:

      If private space flight was impossible, why was it banned in both America and the European Union, both of which then pressured everyone else (such as Libya) to disallow it?
      • Private space flight never was banned anywhere.
        Stupid conspiracy theories.

        Of course you need to file a flight plan and show basic security measures, after all: it is a flight!

    • Elon Musk is someone a lot of people love to hate. Say what you will, but I think this tech is fucking awesome and he's the one who made it possible.

      In this case Musk didn't make it possible, he just made it cheaper. Of course that's it's own achievement.

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        He made it possible. It's a long way from the drawing board to an actual working business. It takes organization, vision, determination and a lot of money. It's easy to sit around and say "oh these plans have been around for years". No one else did it. The guy deserves credit.
    • "Private spaceflight" has been around since the Chrysler Corporation and McDonnell built the Mercury-Redstone rocket. SpaceX is a contractor. They have some neat technology, but the business model isn't any different than any other aerospace contractor in history.
      • Actually a lot of the rocket pioneers like Von Braun actually started building rockets outside the military industrial complex. At one time in Germany (1930s) there was a lot of competition between different teams to provide fast commercial delivery of mail with rockets. The work on that was forbidden by the Nazis during WWII.

        • True, but I didn't include those because none of those rockets went into space. The first rocket capable of reaching space was the V-2, which was build by a government agency. As were the rockets that launched Sputnik and Explorer I. The Mercury-RedStone Launch Vehicle was the first rocket capable of reaching space built by a private contractor.
    • I'm also very happy because I knew private spaceflight was possible when I was younger

      Contrary to the Gospel of the Cult Of Elon - Musk did not invent private spaceflight.

      Private spaceflight got it's start when the booster builders started selling launches to the owners of privately owned satellites - back in the 1970's. You're only happy because you're a moron who is ignorant of fact and history and have bought into NewSpace's revisionist version.

  • by boudie2 ( 1134233 ) on Friday September 08, 2017 @08:21AM (#55158395)
    Five minutes of googling says the top X37B conspiracy is that it's powered by an EM drive (electromagnetic propulsion) that's reverse engineered from alien space ships. Neat-O!

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