X-37 Depends on Space to do Space

Posted: December 13, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Yes, the X-37B depends on space systems to get to space.

For launch, the Atlas V.

For landing, GPS.

What about while it’s in space?  It’s described as being “all autonomous” which is likely a capability and not a limitation: it would be prudent to have the X-37 be ground commandable using the Air Force Satellite Control Network.

Ergo, assured access to space and enduring space-delivered services are critical to the mysterious X-37B, which started life as a NASA program, was launched in April, and returned to earth on 3 December.

The next X-37 mission is scheduled for launch from the Cape on an Atlas V for 4 March 2011, pending post-mission data reviews.

From Spaceflightnow.com:

The next flight will take the X-37B one step further to prove it can operate under a wider range of conditions.

"We put some more strict restrictions on the landing winds on this first flight compared to what the design is," Giese said. "So there are things like the winds and even de-orbit cross-range. We picked an orbit that we knew was well within our capabilities to get to Vandenberg. So some of the things that we could look at doing is expanding or proving out that capability for more of a reentry cross-range, or even weather conditions themselves."

So what does the X-37 do?  Rich McKinney, deputy under secretary of the Air Force for space programs, says this:

"We’re going to use this to put experiments on orbit," McKinney said. "We’re going to check them out. We’re going to test them and we’re going to bring them back. That’s what this is."

McKinney’s statement is suggestive of–but not perfectly so–of proximity operations.

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