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USAF's Robotic X-37B Orbiter Launched For Test Flight 145

Posted by timothy
from the hope-no-one-fell-asleep-inside dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt: "The United States Air Force's novel robotic X-37B space plane is tucked inside the bulbous nose cone of an unmanned rocket that blasted off Thursday from Florida on a mission shrouded in secrecy. ... The unmanned military Orbital Test Vehicle 1 (OTV-1) — also known as the X-37B — lifted off at 7:52 pm EDT atop an Atlas 5 rocket on a mission that is expected to take months testing new spacecraft technologies. ... Key objectives of the space plane's first flight include demonstration and validation of guidance, navigation, and control systems – including a 'do-it-itself' autonomous re-entry and landing at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base with neighboring Edwards Air Force Base as a backup."
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USAF's Robotic X-37B Orbiter Launched For Test Flight

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  • by TheModelEskimo (968202) on Friday April 23, 2010 @02:40AM (#31951788)
    Is autonomous tech really that difficult now? At the very least couldn't it fall back to remote control? I could swear the Sovs did some work like this back in the 70s.
    • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Friday April 23, 2010 @02:48AM (#31951826) Homepage Journal
      Buran flew in 1988. Maybe it was autonomous. And then sat in a warehouse until the building collapsed from lack of maintenance, destroying Buran. I guess this is no worse than spacecraft rusting out in museum parking lots in the U.S.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by macson_g (1551397)
      Exactly! I took over 20 years for american military scientist to decipher Buran's documentation and clone the technology. This again proves my theory that the cyrylic alphabet is best cipher out there!
      • by TheModelEskimo (968202) on Friday April 23, 2010 @04:15AM (#31952258)
        And undoubtedly it's also the easiest alphabet with which to spell "cyrillic?"
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by c6gunner (950153)

      Is autonomous tech really that difficult now? At the very least couldn't it fall back to remote control? I could swear the Sovs did some work like this back in the 70s.

      Strictly speaking, an artillery shell is autonomous. How impressive the automation is depends on how adaptive it is.

      • Strictly speaking, an artillery shell is autonomous. How impressive the automation is depends on how adaptive it is.

        Autonomous literally mean "self governing". Strictly speaking an artillery shell is ballistic, it is not autonomous since it is in no way "self governing".

    • Is autonomous tech really that difficult now?

      No, it's not all that difficult now. However, it's not at the state where you can just hand over a check to the dealer and happily drive it off the lot either.
       
      Seriously, when you're talking hardware/systems of this complexity, even though the basic concepts are all worked out, you still need to test the specific implementation.

  • Marvin the Martian: "At last, after two thousand years of research, the illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator. At last..."

    Marvin the Martian: "Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!"

  • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Friday April 23, 2010 @02:52AM (#31951844) Homepage Journal

    Here's the space shuttle we lost, OK at 1/4 scale, but without the triple redundancy because it doesn't have to carry people. It can do the missions.

    The future of space, at least in the near term, doesn't look so great for astronauts.

    I wonder if it would scale up to shuttle size?

    • Astronauts belong in elementary schools, urging kids to study science and engineering! (At least until we can get some robots that are more spitball-resistant)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Wow.. it's really sad to see the great Bruce Perens spreading "OMG human spaceflight is ending" FUD.

      The gap is unfortunate, but its a product of the previous administration, not a choice of the current one. The retirement date for the shuttle? An overdue decision finally made in 2003. The continual redesign of Ares 1 and the Orion capsule? Thank you Mr Griffin. If the simple safe soon replacement vehicle for the shuttle had been funded back in 2003 when it was supposed to be, and not co-opted for Apoll

      • by Covalent (1001277)
        +1 insightful for the word "multiple". NASA has to be a jack-of-all-trades for space travel right now. Ideally, there would be companies that specialized in various aspects of space travel: Human transport, delicate cargo, rugged cargo, etc. We use different companies for different related services all the time because those companies can optimize for their particular niche (UPS vs. FedEx vs. DHL vs. USPS, etc.) A similar approach should be used for space flight.
      • I agree with just about everything in parent post except I have one quibble:

        Close the gap by engaging *multiple* commercial providers. So if one vehicle fails, or retires, NASA can keep flying on another. There will never be a gap again. Basically what they should have done back in 2003 but without the cost plus pork.

        This should have been started at least 10 years earlier, in 1993, when the failures of the Space Shuttle to meet its original design goals were obvious. My guess as to the cause of the delay is that it takes decades for enough bureaucrats who pinned their careers to a single technology to either retire, or get themselves so far up the ladder that they would not be affected by criticism of their earlier actions.

        We still have a lot

      • Wow - the most insightful post in the thread and I don't have mod-points handy. Seriously - you're losing karma here for posting AC...
    • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Friday April 23, 2010 @03:41AM (#31952046) Journal
      According to Feynman's book on the Shuttle, the only non-automatic procedure for the Space Shuttle reentry is the landing gear command. Why ? Because astronaut required to have at least some actions to do. It could have been handled by computer. In fact, IIRC, it was bypassable by ground control, so that in case all astronauts became unconscious, they could be brought safely back to earth.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2010 @04:49AM (#31952454)

        Nope, there is no way to remotely deploy the landing gear on the shuttle. That is, unless it has been rigged for unmanned flight - known as RCO (Remote Controlled Orbiter) mode - beforehand, using the so called IFM (In-Flight Maintenance)cable. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-3XX#Remote_Control_Orbiter [wikipedia.org]

        This wasn't developed until after the Columbia accident. So yes, the Soviets with their unmanned Buran flight were first.

        The Reason for not letting the computer control the landing gear deployment is simple: It's a one-way procedure. Once deployed, you cannot retract the gear and close the orbiter's underside - that can only take place on the ground. So, if a computer glitch would deploy the gear before or during the "hot" phase during reentry, there'd be no way to return the craft in one piece, with fatal consequences for the crew if it happened at a point where (re)docking with the ISS and waiting for a rescue shuttle is no longer an option.

        You know, folks, sometimes having a human in control isn't all that bad.

        • by cshotton (46965)
          Actually the real reason is the pyrotechnics that are used to deploy the landing gear and the drogue chute as well. They both have to be armed and deployed manually by a series of buttons on the glare shield. It has been a long standing rule in manned space flight that anything that can explode on command like that is always operated manually unless it is impossible for some reason. The fact that neither system can be re-stowed after deployment is problematic.
          • by hitmark (640295)

            i can understand the chute, but no hydraulics on the gear?

            • by chaim79 (898507)

              I'm guessing here, but I suspect that the difficulty of keeping the hydraulic fluid from freezing, coupled with the hydraulics itself made for too much weight/complexity to the system, so they decided on the deploy-once option.

              It's not as if there will be multiple takeoffs and landings between servicing, the system is designed around one takeoff, one landing, service, rinse, and repeat.

              • by Jonathan_S (25407)

                It might also have to do with the difficulty of ensuring that the thermal shield was still perfect after the gear cycled. If operating the gear in orbit is likely to (at least partially) compromise your thermal protection (because you can't be sure it will close perfectly without gaps and without damaging the thermal tiles on the cover) why build in that ability?

            • the question seems backwards. Why would you want retractable gear?

              you are definitely only going to land once - so you definitely don't need to retract the gear during a mission.

              why would you waste any weight on something you definitely don't need?

            • by sjames (1099)

              Hydraulics have weight, take up space, and add complexity. They are best reserved for things that actually need them. Given that there was no credible case where the ability to retract the landing gear would actually help, that capability was left out.

        • by Yvanhoe (564877)

          The Reason for not letting the computer control the landing gear deployment is simple: It's a one-way procedure.

          I doubt the deployement of the landing gear is the only one-way procedure of re-entry.
          I doubt that a human pilot is less susceptible to glitches that a redundant array of 5 (IIRC) computer systems.

          You know, folks, sometimes having a human in control isn't all that bad.

          You always have the programmer in control. A computer never controls or decide anything. It just follows procedures. Humans are bad at that. In Feynmann's book he tells how the engineers were worried about this human command, exactly because it could fail if deployed at the wrong timing.

        • You know, folks, sometimes having a human in control isn't all that bad.

          But backups are good, too. I distinctly remember a television interview with the commander of the first shuttle test flight in which he went over all the things that happen during a landing. (I remember the interview but not the program. It was so long ago, I think it was "Donahue".)

          One thing he pointed out was that upon landing, if the sensors show imminent touchdown (that is, after the nose has started to drop to the tarmac) and

    • by putaro (235078)

      It doesn't need to scale up that large. The Space Shuttle has a lot of cargo bay plus capacity for up to 7 people for long on-orbit times. What we need at the moment is an Earth->Station->Earth space taxi. Double the size of the X-33 and add 24 hours of life support capacity for 2-3 passengers and you're rocking.

      The key thing is to keep going. Actually launching some hardware is an amazing breakthrough given the history of developing spacecraft in the last 20 years or so for the US. Unbelievable

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by paganizer (566360)

        I agree, this is fantastic. After Obama's cancellation of our space program....

        NOTE: Is anyone else sick, tired and disgusted about the people who disagree that cancellation is what he has done? As I explained to my kids: he says he wants to send a ship to a asteroid, and another to mars; however, he canceled the heavy lifter rocket that would have made either mission possible; What he has actually done is given just enough money to heavy lifter development so that he can deny shutting it down (800 million

        • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Friday April 23, 2010 @06:33AM (#31952918) Homepage Journal

          Constellation wasn't taking astronauts anywhere. It was never going to be built and even if it arrived gift wrapped it would have cost so much that NASA would have to cancel it immediately. The entire thing was designed for a budget that NASA never had. It really was warmed over Apollo, but without the Apollo sized budget.

          Hopefully this time NASA will develop a heavy lift vehicle that is actually affordable, or learn to go beyond LEO without it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by putaro (235078)

          I'm of very mixed feelings on the Constellation cancellation. On one hand, I thought that Constellation was a big loser of a program. Expendable solid rockets? Apollo style capsules? We need cheap access to space, not more aerospace contractor welfare. On the other hand, not having a manned space program sucks pretty badly too. As you said, if Obama cancelled the NASA boondoggle knowing that the Air Force had something better coming along, I would feel much better.

          • by Megane (129182)

            Are you saying that there is something wrong with Apollo-style capsules? Try telling that to the Soviets.

            The reason we lost seven astronauts back in the '80s was precisely because the Shuttle wasn't an Apollo-style capsule. When you put the crew vehicle beside the rockets, instead of above them, you remove a lot of important emergency abort capability.

            See that little pointy thing on top of an Apollo Saturn V stack? That's a little rocket that can fly the capsule away from the rest of the rocket if there i

            • The problem with all of the Apollo and Shuttle era technologies that they don't scale. We're never going colonize anywhere sending six people at a time.

              If we define the problem as building a spacecraft capable of transporting 1000 people to Mars with equipment to support them for 10 years, and that it should be able to make this journey four times a year for the next 50 years, you would have to come up with a solution that is based on fundamentally different principles.

              The first powered aircraft that where

        • by Shihar (153932) on Friday April 23, 2010 @08:18AM (#31953428)

          Obama did public space flight. It will not be missed. Our dear "socialist" leader also dumped a pile of money into private space flight. Obama didn't kill space flight. He killed a state welfare program and at the same time gave a boost to the people doing real innovative R&D in manned and unmanned lift vehicles in the private sector. This was long LONG over due. Having the US government design and fund a fucking spaceship by committee and legislation makes about as much sense as the US government designing by fucking committee and legislation cars. It is a really dumb idea and Obama did us a favor by killing it. NASA can now focus on stuff that the private sector can't do, namely, raw science. I'm not against NASA, I just want to see them fretting over stuff like how to detect life on another planet or the arcane working of some exotic stellar mass. Stuff that I want commercialized and brought to the public at large on the other hand needs to be kicked off to private industry ASAP.

          • One thing that bothers me though is the testing facilities not being up yo what NASA already has for manned flight. This where private industry will cut corners until enough space tourists die and end up being more of the same. I guess we shall see if this is a good idea or not. All I'm saying is a least let NASA do some of the testing because they already have the equipment.

          • by pavon (30274)

            Stuff that I want commercialized and brought to the public at large on the other hand needs to be kicked off to private industry ASAP.

            What stuff? The Delta and Atlas are already commercialized, but practically no one wants to use them other than the government. Boeing and Lockheed have already stated that they are only willing to bring those rockets up to man-rated status if they are given a normal cost-plus contract to do so because they don't believe there is a business justification for it otherwise. They don't think that NASA or Bigelow are stable enough customers to risk any money for.

            In other words, these companies that Obama is dum

            • by Shihar (153932)

              I think the only thing we disagree about is the need for man rated heavy lifting to be done by the government. Frankly, I am pretty content with what we have. I want money tossed out to private industry simply because it is going to take some innovation to make LEO and beyond worthwhile for humans. NASA isn't going to be that innovator and we frankly don't need a heavy man rated lifter like the shuttle.

              Even for stuff that was previously "human only" like satellite repairs is easier to farm off to drones

      • by hitmark (640295)

        i wonder whats more cost effective, multiple launches with returnable objects, or one big launch with non-returnable parts.

        basically, what i am thinking is this. Get a "cargo" module going thats basically a habitat for astronauts, then launch the actual payload and work crew as separate launches. Once the cargo is up there, unless it has a badly decaying orbit, it can wait for the work crew to get up and do their thing.

        heck, if the module was transferable, one could maybe even get a safety aspect out of it,

    • by GooberToo (74388)

      I don't believe this is the correct perspective.

      The military has long desired sub-orbital and low orbital satellite capability. Right now, orbital patterns are well known which means its fairly easy to obstruct view during an orbital pass. Moving a satellite requires using precious fuel and analysis to ensure you're not placing it into a path of orbital debris or other objects. And even still, the changes in time allowed by changing its orbit is generally not all that considerable from what I understand.

      Ent

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Bruce Perens (3872) *
        Can you construct a compelling reason that this vehicle, rather than its payload, should loiter in space on a military mission? IMO the X-37 should put up something that's not designed to work in atmosphere, but which has delta-V to change orbit, etc., and then the X-37 should warp orbit to something that's ready to be returned and de-orbit with it. Ultimately, this is a launch and re-entry vehicle, not a space vehicle.
        • by GooberToo (74388)

          Can you construct a compelling reason that this vehicle, rather than its payload, should loiter in space on a military mission?

          Because the military has repeatedly stated they desire such ability since the shuttle's inception for the reasons I stated. And the fact is, the vehicle can loiter for something like 30-day missions; based on what I read. This is, of course, not to say the can't or wont use it to insert additional objects into space for yet additional missions which require yet additional loiter time.

          You also bring up an excellent point about being able to drop off and/or bring back objects, which has also been a long term

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      The future of space, at least in the near term, doesn't look so great for astronauts.

      If you haven't seen it already, I'd definitely suggest reading through this piece by aerospace engineer Rand Simberg (of transterrestrial.com [transterrestrial.com]) over at the NRO, titled, "Obama's Space Program: More Conservative than Bush's -- America has never had a space policy more visionary or more friendly to private enterprise." Of course, the National Review has plenty of issues, but the piece itself is quite well-written and a strong defense of the new plan for NASA:

      http://article.nationalreview.com/432073/obamas-spac [nationalreview.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The purpose of the X-37 is for several things.

    * Spy satellite recapture.
    * Spy satellite de-orbit (killing).
    * Rapid satellite deployment.
    * As a communications platform of Network Centric Ops.
    * Look-e-looing.

    x

  • ...telephone poles and crowbars from orbit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinetic_bombardment)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/21/x37b_secret_launch_options/

    • by Calinous (985536)

      The cost to bring them to orbit in the first place, and then to de-orbit them (in order to allow them to fall on target) is pretty high. Also, this isn't a "surgical strike" capability as the weapon can not "see" the target or communicate too well while falling at multiple times the sound speed.

      • by hitmark (640295)

        autonomous smelters that can grab asteroids and turn them into ammo?

        • by Calinous (985536)

          That's only effective when you need to build some million crowbars, as sending probes anywhere but Low Earth Orbit is very very expensive (and an autonomous smelter would by necessity be huge).

  • In other words, they're testing a Buran.

  • podbay (Score:3, Interesting)

    by idji (984038) on Friday April 23, 2010 @04:38AM (#31952386)
    Is the podbay big enough to hold Chinese or Russian satellites and bring them back down again? That seems to me what is really going on here - why otherwise would the USAF really care about getting stuff back down again? - they don't need their own satellites back - let them burn up in reentry - they are not collecting particulate matter, and I don't believe they will be going around hoovering up space junk. If the thing can stay up therewith it's solar panels for 270 days, maybe it is just wandering around picking up "rogue" satellites, attaching small engines and letting the satellites deorbit.
    • As per above AC post;

      "* Spy satellite recapture.
      * Spy satellite de-orbit (killing).
      * Rapid satellite deployment.
      * As a communications platform of Network Centric Ops.
      * Look-e-looing." ... this is one of its likely roles. It can bring back US assets for service and relaunch; repair or service US assets via spacewalk; launch assets (but not the big spy sats); observe, jam or destroy enemy assets - and all this without any overfly of 'enemy' territory if in polar orbits. It can also do surveilance and launch

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bruce Perens (3872) *
      I am dubious that this scales if you are trying to clean up orbital garbage. There's a lot. If you are trying to deorbit hostile satellites, they are likely to blow themselves up. Probably all you can do successfully is shoot them. This only makes the debris problem worse.
    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Well if I was building any type of military satellite I would include a self destruct or anti-tamper device.
      The shuttle already had the ability to grab a satellite and showed it a few times with US ones. If you any classified type of device in orbit and you saw a US anything getting close just set it with a proximity / time fuse. Boom..
      I am sorry there must have been a fault in that. We had no idea that you would have your shuttle close to it! And why was that BTW?

      So that is probably not it's mission.

      • by denobug (753200)
        Ther velocity of the objects raveling in orbits are so high that one little piece of objects colliding to anyting would be disasterous. Cosnidering an unmanned shuttle "releasing" a small, but reasonable size object (like a solid metal ball?) and let it "float" to the desire target. The taret (rogue satellie, for example) will most likely be destroyed upon contact, or as you point out, self-destruct with proximity sensors.
    • by (H)elix1 (231155) *

      My thoughts would be to bring our own back. If you harden a satellite as defense against anti-sat weapons, I suspect it might have the unwanted effect of letting critical bits survive re-entry when it does leave orbit.

    • Well. For what it's worth, if they brought down an operational or recently decommissioned Chinese or Russian satellite, the world would come one step closer to exploding. Seriously, its great to fantasize about this stuff. But going out and blatantly stealing other countries' military/intelligence hardware (and in effect, deploying an ASAT weapon) would just become a diplomatic disaster.
    • by tsotha (720379)

      The bay is about the size of a coffin, which makes it too small to bring back spy satellites. Hard for me to imagine what they're going to do with it beyond use it as a test bed to develop something bigger.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 23, 2010 @04:50AM (#31952460)

    Does anyone know what the panels lining the rocket fairing are for?

    http://www.foxnews.com/slideshow/scitech/2009/10/22/nasas-secret-space-plane-nears-maiden-voyage?slide=4

  • That's the discussion that I want to see here on slashdot. Wild speculation about what it's mission is. Here is my first shot at it:

    - High Tech ASAT machine: ASAT tech (ballistic/laser) weapons mounted in the cargo bay. Makes sense except, why do you need it to come back down... cost of laser perhaps?

    - Satellite Stealer: Go up, grab enemy satellite, bring it back down. Deprives enemy of the satellite, and lets you figure out how it works so you can perhaps destroy/disable others like it?

    - Spe
    • Wild speculation about what it's mission is

      1) Surreptitiously toss male and female 'astronauts' into space without the blinding glare of NASA publicity. Amateur video to follow.
      2) Deorbit and buzz Washington DC, just like every fighter jockey that's dealt with government bureaucracy has always wanted to do.
      3) Our space penis is bigger than your space penis.
      4) $$$$
      5) Profit.

      • by Artifakt (700173)

        It's humbling to realize I'm no better qualified to be an 'astronaut' than I am to be an astronaut.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935)

      I haven't seen anybody else mention it in this thread, but there was a really interesting pre-launch teleconference with Air Force Deputy Under Secretary for Space Programs (and former astronaut) Gary Payton. Payton gave quite a few details about the program I hadn't seen elsewhere, giving additional insight into the program's purpose and future plans. I've pasted a few highlights below:

      http://www.dodlive.mil/index.php/tag/gary-payton/ [dodlive.mil]
      http://www.defense.gov/Blog_files/Blog_assets/PaytonX-37.pdf [defense.gov]

      Question: Mark Matthews with the Orlando Sentinel.
      Two quick questions. If the tests are successful is the Air Force looking to be able to build more of these planes? And what do you say to concerns about how this could lead to the increased weaponization of space?
      Mr. Payton: We do have a second tail number on contract. Currently we're looking at a 2011 launch for that second tail number. That assumes everything goes properly as predicted on this first flight. And truthfully, I don't know how this could be called wedaponizatino of space. It's just an updated version of the space shuttle kind of activities in space. We, the Air Force, have a suite of military missions in space and this new vehicle could potentially help us do those missions better.
      Question: Gordon Lubold, Christian Science Monitor.
      I guess I would just wonder if you could explain a little bit more about what the flight will test and clarify one thing. Is there not going to be a specific payload on it this time, or is there going to be and you can't tell us what it's going to be? Can you give us some sense of it? There seems to be a lot of mystery around the flight and I'm not sure if that's intended or not.
      Mr. Payton: Like in many of our space launches, not all of them but many of them, the actual on-orbit activities we do classify. So we're doing that in this case for the actual experimental payloads that are on orbit with the X37. But again, our top priority is demonstrating the vehicle itself with its autonomous flight control systems, new generation of silica tile, and a wealth of other new technologies that are sort of one generation beyond the shuttle. ...
      Question: It could capture a spacecraft that's already on orbit and bring it down for servicing or what have you?
      Mr. Payton: Not on this flight. Again, this flight's intend is the experiments themselves, both during ascent, during entry, and on orbit. But there's no arm on this one. ...

      Question: A quick follow-up on in-orbit capability. Do you have, what kind of props on this thing? I know you can get up to like 500 nautical miles, something like that. Is there any expectation to do some orbit maneuvering of this vehicle to different altitudes?
      Mr. Payton: Just the way we handle satellites in general. We would, and like we handle low earth orbit satellites. We move them a little bit with their own on-board propulsion system.
      You're starting to touch on the notion of using a winged vehicle to really change the inclination of the orbit by sort of dipping into the top of the atmosphere and turning and then bouncing back up off the top of the atmosphere. You need a very very good, very very high. Again, hypersonic lift over drag, in order for that to be beneficial. This bird does not have that high hypersonic lift over drag ratio that you would need to do that kind of maneuver.
      Sorry, I didn't intend to give a lecture on Aero 562. ...

      Question: Air Force Magazine.
      You talked before about how this could handle a small sized satellite. In more lay person's terms, what does that mean? Is the payload large enough to hold like a Volkswagen Beetle or an SUV? Can you give us some idea there?
      Mr. Payton: You know our ORS program, Operation Responsive Space?
      Question: Yes.
      Mr. Payton: Maybe a couple of satellites that are a few hundred kilograms each.

      Question: Aviation Week.
      Can I just confirm something? You said that the second vehicle may be ready to launch before the first vehicle is back from it's -- This is not a short hop. This is a long journey, a planned long flight.
      Mr. Payton: Right. We have a maximum of 270 days on orbit with this bird. Again, we don't want to launch the second one until we've learned everything we can from the first one. So we will keep the second one on the ground until the first one comes home.
      Again, that may be, it won't be any more than 270 days but again, it all depends on the progress of the on-orbit experiments, then we'll make a conscious decision on the success of those on-orbit experiments before we bring it home. ...

      Question: Flight International.
      Given the expense of going through this reusable vehicle, what type of interest is there in the Air Force in particular of bringing back payloads as opposed to just dropping them off?
      Mr. Payton: The advantage of this vehicle is that you can take something up that's new, you haven't ever flown it before, it's new technology, and operate it on orbit, then bring it back and inspect it. Kind of a truck mode. You take it up and bring it back all in the same flight over the course of weeks or months. Shuttle has a limit of I believe 16 days on orbit. This bird can go a lot longer than 16 days. ...

      Question: Air Force Magazine.
      Mr. Payton, what are the best adjectives to use to describe this mission? Is it revolutionary? How should we describe it?
      Mr. Payton: I don't know. I'm an engineer, not an English major. I would say that, again, if these technologies on the vehicle prove to be as good as we currently estimate, it will make our space launch, our access to space more responsive, perhaps cheaper, and again, push us in the vector toward being able to react to warfighter needs more quickly.
      Question: Turner Britton.
      This is probably a dumb question. I guess I just don't really get the final intent of the mission you're looking for here. An Atlas 5 launch costs $200 million or something. So I can't really figure out why you would want to take something up to orbit, test it, and bring it down, when you can kind of simulate all those things on the ground. The only thing that really makes sense to me is the ability to go up and get a spacecraft, maybe one that's failed, bring it down, fix it, or see what went wrong and put it back up there. Am I on the right track there?
      Mr. Payton: Project a spacecraft or new technology that we haven't flown before and we want to expose it to that space environment and test again, not the X37, in the future not the X37 itself, but the stuff it carries. Test that new technology on orbit in the real world and then bring it back and inspect it. That's one of the big advantages this bird offers. And you get to expose that new technology for a long time on orbit. Again, not just a week or two weeks on orbit, but for a long time. ...
      Question: Where does the reusability help you there? You could preempt and get the facing off expendably, couldn't you?
      I'm not sure where you get the benefit of reusability if you're going to be having to launch on an expendable vehicle.
      Mr. Payton: Again, the access, the earth to orbit launch, I would love to have a higher flight rate of Deltas and Atlases. It would make each one less expensive. But again, the reusability is you get to bring that payload back home and again you have to launch it again to be sure, which could be launched into a different inclination and altitude on subsequent launches.
      Reusability is beneficial in two regards. One is sort of total mass to low earth orbit, where you've got a large flight rate for a large number of pounds to low earth orbit over the course of a year. And I learned this back on X33 and X34, the nation doesn't really have enough mass to low earth orbit to justify that. But when you're talking about a surge -- or another way to justify reusability is in a surge mode where you've got to deploy a lot of things rapidly. And that's where reusability benefits in a surge mode. Again, in that ORS one of the missions of ORS is a surge or a replenishment capability.

      • A Surge? (Score:2, Interesting)

        He's talking about a big push to put stuff into orbit. I see several scenarios here:

        Large solar flare destroying a bunch of satellites, replacement needed.
        Some new weapon that can destroy a large number of satellites (ground based X-ray laser or an EMP/Nuclear weapon)
        Reagan's Star Wars style satellites chain. I've heard we have some advances in Fiber laser efficiency. Any other recent big advances in beam weaponry?
  • After 50 years, dynasoar finally takes flight. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynasoar [wikipedia.org] Better late than never.

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