The X-37B space plane: is it really a weapon?

The X-37 project has advanced, in secrecy, throughout the 21st century. Designed by Boeing, the X-37 is an unmanned robotic spacecraft, designed to demonstrate reusable space technologies. Currently, the United States Air Force operates the X-37B, conducting mysterious orbital missions and offering few public disclosures.

X-37B: some details are available

What we know about the X-37 is that the technology is reusable. Companies and agencies across all industry sectors are rushing to integrate reusable technologies. Outwardly, efforts in reusable materials are often marketed as sustainability efforts – an effort to reduce waste, geared towards caring for the environment. Certainly, reusable products are eco-conscious. But reusable products are also profitable; using something once is an expensive proposition. And profitability, rather than sustainability, is likely the primary motivation for companies looking to adopt reusable technology.

Towing expenses are particularly limiting in the space exploration industry. In many ways, our major space exploration companies and agencies know precisely what they want to do (for example, go to Mars or establish a lunar colony) – and they know how to do it. Yet they simply cannot pay for it. Consider America’s Apollo project, mankind’s signature space exploration achievement, which landed men on the surface of the Moon. Between 1960 and 1973, the United States spent $25.8 billion on the Apollo project, the equivalent of $257 billion in 2020. Last year, NASA entire budget, for all projects, was $23 billion. The American public is unwilling to spend money on space exploration as it did during the Cold War.

To circumvent the constraining budgetary environment, companies are developing reusable space technologies. SpaceX has, for example, developed the Falcon 9, the first-ever orbital-class reusable rocket. “Reuse allows SpaceX to fly the most expensive parts of the rocket again, which in turn lowers the cost of accessing space,” SpaceX’s website says. States. The Falcon9 has been used to carry various payloads into orbit, including Boeing’s X-37, another example of cost-effective and reusable space technology.

The X-37 was developed from the Boeing X-40; X-37 is a 120% derivative of X-40. Nasa launched the project in 1999, selecting Boeing to create an orbital vehicle. During the development phase, which lasted four years, NASA invested $109 million in the project. The US Air Force and Boeing invested an additional $16 million and $67 million, respectively. The result of the investment, the X-37, was a functional, reusable orbital vehicle featuring an aerodynamic design similar to that of the Space Shuttle, with a similar lift-to-drag ratio.

In 2004, NASA transferred management of the X-37 program to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where the program has since been ranked. DARPA did, however, give the public some information.

X-37 Tests and Known Accomplishments

In 2005, the X-37 flew for the first time, strapped under a White Knight scale composites, a high-altitude research aircraft. After the flight, the X-37 underwent structural upgrades and plans were made to perform the first drop test, during which the X-37 would be released from the White Knight in flight. After a series of canceled drop test dates, X-37 was finally released from the White Knight on April 7, 2006. X-37 did not have an intact propulsion system and simply slid back to Earth. The sliding part of the test went well. The landing was botched, however, when the X-37 overshot the runway, sustaining minor damage.

After two more successful glide tests, the US Air Force announced that it would be developing its own variant, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) (NASA/DARPA version was known as X-37A). Under the Air Force, the program would focus on “risk reduction, experimentation and development of operational concepts for reusable space vehicle technologies, in support of long-term space development goals,” said the Secretary of the Air Force. said. This explanation, in accordance with the secrecy of the program, does not offer us much information. What we do know is that the Air Force did launch the X-37B into space.

The first launch of the X-37B, known as OTV-1, took place in April 2010. An Atlas V rocket carried the X-37B into space. The Air Force revealed very little about the flight, but amateur astronomers, keeping tabs on the orbiting spacecraft, believe they spotted the X-37B in low Earth orbit, circling the Earth once. every 90 minutes. The spacecraft remained in orbit for 224 days, landing in December. From OTV-1, several X-37B missions were launched. The most recent, OTV-6, took place in 2020. During the mission, the spacecraft launched a satellite with experimental payloads to stay in Earth orbit.

Everything indicates that the Air Force will continue to test the mysterious reusable X-37B, leaving us all to wonder what exactly they do. the.

Harrison Kass is the senior defense writer at 19FortyFive. A lawyer, pilot, guitarist and minor professional hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a trainee pilot, but was discharged for medical reasons. Harrison is a graduate of Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon, and New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

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