America’s Best X-37 Gouge

Posted: December 7, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Spacekeep, bring another round. 

Yes, the Air Force likes the X-37B enough to be readying a second for flight.

From Aviation Week:

The U.S. Air Force says the second planned mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) will “expand the operating envelope” of the autonomous space vehicle, potentially increasing the orbital cross-range and capability of landing in stronger crosswinds.

This is for another mission to be launched from the Cape on an Atlas V—the same launch site and launch vehicle as the first—in the spring of 2011.

Lt. Col. Troy Giese, X-37B program manager from the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (Afrco), which manages the X-37B program, says OTV-2’s mission will focus on “expanding the operating envelope of what its capabilities are. This time, we put more restrictions on landing winds and on orbiting cross-range. We picked an orbit that was well within its ability to get back to Vandenberg Air Force Base,” he adds. The next flight may have a more exaggerated orbit to test the cross-range recovery characteristics and may end up with an attempted recovery in more marginal weather.

The autonomous landing at Vandenberg—which featured a screaming touchdown speed of 230 mph—had a low-tech issue: a blown tire.  Except a 300 psi tire may not be low tech.

…the vehicle’s left main landing gear tire blew out on touchdown—a mishap not easily spotted in initial photos released by the Air Force. However, program officials say the fact the X-37B continued to roll down the runway centerline without deviation following the blowout of the 300-psi. dinner-plate-size tire is a testament to the integrity of its control system.

Think the tire may have gone flat in space?  See if tire pressure gets a telemetry read-out next op.  After all, the new cars have ‘em.  But that wasn’t all the damage:

Shreds of ruptured tire caused some damage to the belly of the vehicle, which also was pitted in several places by unidentified space debris.

I wonder how much debris per mile there is.  Let’s see: 17,000 mph times 24 hours times 244 days is a lot of miles: almost 100 million miles.  And if there are seven debris hits, that would mean one piece of debris every 14 million miles.  Or about once every 35 days.  

Remember, your results may vary.

And here’s where it gets more interesting as the Air Force characterizes the X-37B:

“It’s a test vehicle. We want to be able to put objects into space and test them out, and exercise them.” As such, OTV “does not replace the other [responsive space] capabilities such as TacSat, but it gives us another dimension. We have the ability to research technologies, do experiments in space and return them to Earth. That’s a capability that’s been severely limited in the past. We have a very serious and important business in providing national security space capability, and our ability to examine those technologies before deployment is a big sought-after capability.”

Well if the X-37 has to launch on an Atlas V, that guarantees it won’t meet responsive space needs.

OTV-1 primarily was aimed at checking out vehicle systems and design features, with a secondary emphasis on the more advanced sensor technology likely to be featured more prominently in follow-up missions. Vehicle technology test targets for OTV-1 included advanced guidance, navigation and control; thermal protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal reusable insulation, and lightweight electromechanical flight systems.

Space plane, fly home.

On command, the X-37B autonomously folded the array, closed the doors (which contain radiator panels to dissipate heat into space), commenced a re-entry burn, and performed a series of S-turns to bleed off energy like the space shuttle during its descent through the atmosphere.

Err, if it takes a command to get the antenna to fold itself up, is it autonomous?  Sounds more like “remote” to me.

Regardless, the simple fact the X-37B has a classified mission and unspoken payload(s) ensures interest will continue be high.

 

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