Things that make America Cool - The X37
The US Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is cool. The reason it's cool is because while everyone was whining about the demise of the American Space Shuttle program - the X37 virtually appeared out of nowhere.
The next case that can made for "cool" is that as American political winds push or pull the sails of space program funding - as un-American politicians try to relegate us to the Stone Age with funding cuts - the X37B sort of sneaked past it all. It's up there in the heavens right now - performing it's mission - and has been slowly jetting around God's green earth since March 5, 2011.
That's 400 days and counting.
The third argument for cool is that it has “secret squirrel” written all over it. Not literally, but my wouldn't our enemies and frienemies like to know what’s inside an Orbital Test Vehicle every time it launches?
In general, the American manned Space Shuttle Program admirably served its purpose by proving that a reusable space vehicle is a functional idea, which, in turn, indirectly produced the X-37 program. Arguable, but you can't change facts:
- According to Wikipedia, it's "29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide. It has a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed and is outfitted with a deployable solar array power system."
- It obviously replaces a portion of the Space Shuttle's delivery and recovery programs - with a cutting edge vehicle that is much safer for humans than the Shuttles were - no human astronauts allowed thus far, although there are plans for manned missions in the future.
- Want some irony? According to Wikipedia, the first X37 mission "was originally scheduled for launch in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle, but following the 2003 Columbia disaster, it was transferred to a Delta II 7920." It would've been a shuttle in a shuttle, aye.
- It now fits on the tip of an Atlas V rocket in a shrouded configuration to protect it during space launch.
- It's only a test vehicle. The Secretary of the Air Force noted that the X37's intended purpose was to focus on "risk reduction, experimentation, and operational concept development for reusable space vehicle technologies, in support of long-term developmental space objectives." That means there are different variations on the reusable shuttle theme, and more good, to come.
That's a general update on the program, and it will continue to be in the news - because the Chinese are wary about it - there are larger scale versions already in design, as well as more launches of the basic X37B version forthcoming - and the cargo and mission has been secretive thus far, with many amateur and professional astronomers zooming in on it to look for mission clues while it does fly-bys over earth.
So, more to follow ...
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