back to article US airforce to launch robotic Space Shuttle 2.0 this year

NASA may have given up on spaceplanes for now, with the Shuttle soon to be replaced by old-school rocket stacks and capsules. But the US Air Force, it seems, still sees a need for spacecraft which can re-enter atmosphere and make a runway landing. Reports indicate that the X-37B unmanned spaceplane demonstrator will make its …

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Coat

Mini-Me??

"Future orbiters derived from the X-37 might deliver ......... or even troops to far-flung theatres within hours of getting the go order."

With a payload space of 7ftx4ft that would the 1st Brigade Midget Infantry then??

Mines the one with the the problem Houston.

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No Euro spaceplane

Phoenix was a air dropped developmental vehicle, like the X-40 was. However it was supposed to be the predecessor to Hopper, a first stage sub orbital 'fly back booster' a very different beasty to the X-37B

/space geek

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Why re-usable if you want to deliver warheads?

I see no reason for using a soft-landing re-usable space plane for delivering warheads. You will normally explode the warhead before landing, and there is little chance of re-use if the plane is blown up. And I can't see this being able to drop a warhead and then make it to safe distance for a soft landing afterwards.

Soft landing is interesting only for re-use or if you want to bring something back from orbit. Military use of the latter capability seems limited, unless they want to bring back satellites for repair/upgrade or "steal" enemy satellites.

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Why USAF needs winged spacecraft...

...is one of the reasons the Space Shuttle is so poor.

Many military payloads need to be put into a polar orbit at a high inclination to the equator. By the time an object has made just one orbit taking about 90 minutes, the planet will have rotated and its launch site will have slipped away to the East. In the event of a crisis where the craft can't simply wait for the Earth to complete a revolution, the orbiter needs to steer its way back through re-entry - a so-called cross-range capability - which is best done with wings.

Of course wings are heavy and cause huge problems for the aerodynamics during launch when they contribute almost nothing. It was the USAF's insistence that the Space Shuttle had to have cross-range capability which produced the current design.

The USAF wanted to launch shuttles into polar orbits out of Vandenburg on the Californian coast and wanted to guarantee that in the event of an emergency their oh-so-secret payloads could be returned safely to America. To get to polar orbit the Shuttle would have needed super light-weight solid rocket boosters; but after the Challenger explosion it was quickly realised this design was even more prone to failure. So the Vandenburg Shuttle complex was mothballed, the USAF switched to the Titan IV heavy booster and the Shuttle became something of a white elephant.

But it looks like the boys in blue have decided they still want something that goes whoosh in space (laws of physics not withstanding).

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Gold badge
Joke

Re: Mini-me.

To anyone reading this from the Gnome project. If the USAF offer sponsorship, set 'em straight for us.

Thanks.

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Silver badge

Only makes sense to fetch things back

There's no way something like this would or could be deployed to a troublespot. The craft would have to have a fixed glidepath on approach and would therefore be far too vulnerable to a baddie with a stinger. Plus the runway would have to be pretty dam' close to perfect - and very, very long.

There are already better and cheaper ways to get more stuff into space. Lets face it, if the only way is up there's little point wasting payload on a reusable last stage. That leaves us with the only other possibility: to bring back things that are already in orbit (or will be, at some time in the future).

So, the most interesting part of this is to try and work out what could possibly be in LEO, that is worth $100M a pop to bring back to earth?

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(Written by Reg staff)

Global reach

Gents -

I'm quite aware that orbital deployment is a far-fetched notion. However, the US Marines were keen as mustard on the idea at one time:

http://www.defensetech.org/archives/001815.html

(You'll note that the postulated USMC space landing-craft is plainly a re-badged X-37! No doubt full of midget jarheads)

The idea would be to crashland your X-37 derived one-way/disposable troop carrier at the place of choice, or possibly to parachute the troops out once down to a reasonable speed and height. Alternatively, you might do a one-way Entebbe/TALO style op against a target runway, or splash down at sea or whatever. Of course, we're talking about an awfully long walk out again - or an enormous forced-entry followup invasion once the hostages are safe, nukes are seized - or whatever - no matter how you slice it: but that's true of any long-range parachute op, and special forces worldwide love those (or claim to ...)

As for spy payloads, no doubt we're all well aware of the DARPA Rapid Eye robospyplane-on-a-rocket ploy. Why not combine the plane and reentry-vehicle parts? Especially if that were also useful for other things.

Warheads, sure, why not just use ICBM RVs. There are such plans. But you might want to drop some specialist aeroplane payload like the MOP, MOAB etc; you might want to come down somewhere unexpectedly, that nobody could predict if they were tracking your orbit. You could get some flexibility with a winged RV.

Don't get me wrong - I don't think the US military really needs all this. But they might think they do; or someone might like to sell it to them; or some politician might like to have it made in his district.

Of course you're right, it might also make a fun sat-stealer, You Only LIve Twice style ...

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Thumb Down

Pointless.....

What's the point, sure they can get to any place in a few hours, but whats the point when the Chump in charge goes on TV weeks before, to tell everyone they are going to attack them....

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Pirate

RE: Why re-usable if you want to deliver warheads?

It means you can abort and have that ship come back.

It means you can have a space 'bommer' where it flys up, drops payloads (maybe hangs around untill the approprate moment) and returns. Smart 'space bomes' are put on target by troops on the ground or spy plans or even GPS. (the latter being more scarry).

And then of course its basic technologys can be used in many diffrent ways (i.e. to develop more intresting missile systems, lifeboats...)

That is my thinking at any rate.... I wonder how hard a guided non-explosive kinitic could hit from space? Made of the right materials there may be 0 evidence left.... I suspose they would say it was a plane and blaime some suiside bommers.

:)

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Bond. James Bond.

Perhaps someone just watched Moonraker and came up with the idea of a shuttle payload filled with marines in spacesuits and jetpacks?

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Black Helicopters

Rods from the Gods

Is that bay big enough for a kinetic payload?

Just a thought.

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Anonymous Coward

Thor shot

"...wonder how hard a guided non-explosive kinitic could hit from space?"

A brief Google only throws up gaming and comic references, but the concept of "ortillery" has been around a long time in fiction and futurology. A large piece of streamlined refractory dense metal (say depleted Uranium) dropping from orbit on a minimum-aerobraking trajectory would be dumping a lot of potential energy from being high up, and possibly a lot of kinetic energy, from being at orbital speeds, depending on how its orbit was perturbed to achieve de-orbit.

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Boffin

RE: Why re-usable if you want to deliver warheads?

"I wonder how hard a guided non-explosive kinitic could hit from space?"

Simple physics suggests it can't hit harder than the blast you'd get simply blowing up the fuel that got it there. Once you factor in the inefficiencies in the launching process (high), the inefficiencies in deorbiting (also high, hence why meteors aren't continually wiping out all life on Earth) and the difficulty of hitting your target (again, high), you're likely to be a lot better off with a conventional rocket strike.

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Typical

It's the American militry getting their areas mixed up again.

First it was the Marines in the Deserts of Afghanistan (they are water soldiers).

Now the Air force in Space. Where there is no air.

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Coat

Suborbital space planes needed for when...

..the alien invasion starts, and we have to get a crack team of troops to the UFO landing sites in short order.

Mine's the armoured one with the X-COM patch on the shoulder.

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Alien

4x7 payload

At that size, probably couldn't bring much back? I thought most orbiters were larger, especially deployed. Could work as an escape or rescue vehicle for the ISS. Could just be a demonstrator 1/4 size? Or how about putting a mechanic and some parts in there? Does anyone know if a person can survive a ride atop an Atlas V... are they man rated?

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Bronze badge

none

most sats are 20 sq feet and weigh 30 tons

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Unhappy

How many Wales?

Can someone please tell me what a 'foot' is?

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Boffin

Relative Velocity

"Simple physics suggests it can't hit harder than the blast you'd get simply blowing up the fuel that got it there." - anon

(m * (Delta v)**2)/2

Delta V is determined by the relative speed of both spacecraft.

So you can potentially get the kenetic energy content of both satellites.

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Boffin

West

"Many military payloads need to be put into a polar orbit at a high inclination to the equator. By the time an object has made just one orbit taking about 90 minutes, the planet will have rotated and its launch site will have slipped away to the East."

West

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Thumb Up

Old Idea

The idea of boosting a bomber into low Earth orbit and striking a distant target at high speed is an old one. The Germans played around with an "antipodal bomber" concept during World War II but they could not figure out how get their craft up to speed. The idea was given a new lease of life in the United States as Weapons System 464L, which eventually became the X-20 Dyna-Soar.

After many changes to the programme, the X-20 was scrapped. However, the data gathered was used to inform the design of later craft. One of the final concepts was for a space-tug, not unlike the X-37.

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Paris Hilton

7 foot x 4 foot payload/experiment bay

So, it's two-dimensional?

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Paris Hilton

Hello

hello , "Buran" is that you wearing the stars and stripes ?

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Bronze badge

briton should waste

£50b on creating a shuttle, after the air carriers and trident, money would be better spent then crdating a eurofighter + astrominers can look at the stars again

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Plaigarism

It looks to me like a copy of the ESA "Hermes" spacecraft which was cancelled about twenty years ago when we found the job could be done cheaper by one-offs.......

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