Archive for the ‘X-37’ Category

A groan-inducing article at The Diplomat asks the intentionally provocative question ‘Is the U.S. Starting an Asian Space Race?”

The answer, although you would never gather it from the article’s tone and presentation, is a resounding ‘no.’

The article uses the X-37, the re-usable space platform that looks like a quarter-scale space shuttle and launched earlier in the year, as a springboard to ominously suggest that such “ambiguous” U.S. space activities may “pose a strategic risk.” (more…)


The New York Times article on the X-37 contains two very weak assertions.

How about this one: “The craft’s payload bay is the size of a pickup truck bed, suggesting that it can not only expose experiments to the void of outer space but also deploy and retrieve small satellites.”  (emphasis added)

I guess you could assert that the shuttle has ‘retrieved’ a satellite regarding the repair missions with the Hubble.  I also suppose you could assert the X-37 could do such a mission as a space debris mitigation effort–a demonstration possibly–but even if it had the energy to maneuver to a spacecraft to retrieve it, how would it get it in the cargo bay?  How would the payload be secured for a return trip to earth, including an airplane-like landing?

The second assertion is the space weaponization thing.  It seems kind of analogous to when people have to explain that they are actually politically correct when accused of a PC-type crime.  Accordingly, the X-37 is associated with the phrase ‘space weaponization’ several times and it is denied several times.  The Times Online article Launch of secret US space ship masks even more secret launch of new weapon is m-u-c-h more ominous.  I’m all for conspiracy theories, but come on…

Really, the idea the X-37 is a space weapon is beyond the pale. First level questions like what weapon(s) does it carry?; what would be its target(s)?; how would the weapon(s) be delivered to the target(s)?, are ignored.

Regarding an X-37 payload, in the past the concept of ‘on-orbit spares’ has come up, but the idea was never compelling.  After all, if you’re going to put something on orbit, it is probably a very capable system and you probably want to use it right away.  As such, you’d be expected to turn the satellite on as soon as you can.

A vehicle like the X-37 could preserve a capability to deploy ‘sleeping’ contingency satellite(s) for an extended period of time.  If there was war here on earth that needed the kind of space capabilities the X-37’s payload could provide, then it could deploy the satellites almost immediately.  Conversely, if they didn’t need to be deployed, the X-37 could be brought back with the payload intact for use on a subsequent mission.  Or they could be deployed just prior to the X-37’s de-orbit to add space capability.

Taking off and landing with the same payload–on a first mission–makes little sense.  The X-37 first needs to show it can deploy a payload after some period of on-orbit storage.  By the way, a payload that could fit into a pickup truck’s bed seems pretty likely to not have new sensors on it.  You would  really expect this would be about employing relatively mature technologies in new ways.

Yes, the USAF X-37 space mission has launched.  Go Atlas, go Centaur, go X-37.

Is this all supposed to coincide with Earth Day?  After all, the X-37 is a reusable vehicle…of course, in theory, so is the shuttle.

Speaking of the shuttle, lost in the noise is the fact that the space shuttle Atlantis has been rolled out for its last scheduled mission.

Lotsa link action and much of it is focused on the fact no one in the Air Force is talking about the payload itself.  If it had been a NASA mission to track algae blooms in the south China sea, interest would be nil.  As for me, I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of large red algae blooms in the south China sea.

From the mighty Spaceflight Now.

From the always interesting In From the Cold.

From the Daily Mail (checkout the unretouched photo of Kate Moss while you’re there).

For some program background, how about Aviation Week?

Feel free to laugh your guts out or at least to chuckle knowingly at this article in the CSM Air Force to launch X-37 space plane: Precursor to war in orbit?

For example:

“For the first time, the service will launch the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, a brand new, unmanned spacecraft to demonstrate the military’s ability to fly into space, circle the globe for months on end, and return intact, only to fly again.”

Or better:

“Arms control advocates say it is pretty clearly the beginning of a “weaponization of space” – precursor to a precision global strike capability that would allow the US to hover for months at a time over anywhere it chose with little anyone could do about it.”

Or even:

“…one of the inherent values of the X-37 could be as a maneuverable satellite which could be used to look over China’s shoulder one day, yet evade any attempts to shoot it down.”

While you are free to discuss amongst yourselves, here are my thoughts:

  1. The shuttle was able to circle the globe.
  2. The shuttle was reusable.
  3. The Soviets thought the shuttle should be characterized as a space weapon.
  4. If the shuttle didn’t have people on board, it could have orbited (not hovered!) for years on end.
  5. In space, no one can hear you hover–there is no “hovering” in space.  Star Trek “orbits’ (yes, those are irony quotes) don’t work.
  6. It takes a great deal of energy to move an orbiting object–evading (as in “Maverick, look out!”) ain’t happening.

Carpe hover or “seize the space hook.”