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back to article US Airforce secret spaceplane launched successfully

The US Air Force successfully launched its pocket-size X-37B robot space plane into orbit last night, on a mission whose nature and duration remain classified. With the imminent departure of the Space Shuttle, the little wingship will soon be the only orbital craft capable of runway landing - and perhaps other things. The X-37B …

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Boffin

Classified...

So I guess it will not get a USSPACECOM Catalog No or a International Designation Code then? and presumably there will be no Debris items either? (Presumably debris is classified too?)

Anyone know?

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Boffin

COSPAR ID

Is designtaed as 2010-015A oddly enough no details in the database:

http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/masterCatalog.do?sc=2010-015A

Looks Like an Ideal Loitering reusable satelite chassis to me. Im not convinced that it will be deploying and recovering payloads.. just open the doors and point the payload at earth for 6 months.. Being smaller and unmanned Im guessing that there is no reason why this couldn't go a little higher than LEO, Maybe as far a GSO?? but that would be classified wouldn't it!

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Go

I'd agree..

Why launch once to deploy a payload then launch second time to recover? this craft is designed to loiter, hence one launch, and one return at end of mission. I suspect its cheaper than a second launch too! Looks like this is a re-useable satellite chassis, designed to prevent dead spy sats falling back to earth uncontrollably, and requiring some sharp shooting and global annoyance, And making the whole business cheaper since most of the sat is re-serviceable. With manouvering, power, communications, etc all on the craft, just change the payload to the latest version and relaunch.

I'd like to see all satellites go this way, designed for recycling with less polluting burn up.

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Anonymous Coward

Some serious russian sabre rattling is expected shortly

No bookies to take this but we are looking at (at most) 14 days until a Bulava "highly maneuverable warhead" test, 14 days until an overflight down to California and back of a Tu 160 sortie and 12 months until a Hurricane launch (as the launch was anything but secret the Russians have had more than enough time to resurrect it).

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Related stories

Given your Bootnote: "*Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying Spacecraft. The idea is to have the various components of a normal big satellite organised in a wirelessly-linked cluster of small orbiting machines, a so-called virtual satellite. " I'm surprised you don't include these two articles as related:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/21/spheres_for_mars_sample_return/

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/20/iss_spheres_upgrades/

They seem to describe a test bed for developing precisely the "virtual satellite" you mention. One of them even notes that these SPHERES are actually satellites themselves even though their orbits are currently bounded by the walls of the ISS.

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Thumb Up

And when does it get guns?

An emp cannon or smaller laser of the type on missile killing boeings wouldn't go a miss?

"Almost at nuclear war?" Send a fleet of these babies into space with maybe three or four shots of a laser and voila, instant interceptor fleet for your enemy icbm's. If they can sit for 270 days in orbit you can just linger, letting russia know they are there and going. "Try it pal." Time taken to track an icbm, program these things to get closer and letting the speed or orbital rotation put them close, with no air, laser ranges increase etc etc.

Or more likely just fly one right upto a chinese military satellite moments before you attack and hit the one shot laser button, knocking out their sat comms etc.

I like it.

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Grenade

No need for guns - just preparation

If the <enemy> satellites don't have situational awareness, you could fly this thing near, open the cargo hold and park a bomb (EMP, or just conventional) next to them. You could set this up over a couple of years, and take out a whole fleet of satellites in a couple of seconds when needed, without the bother of needing to launch many ground based missiles at once.

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Silver badge
Boffin

RE: And when does it get guns?

No need for a fancy laser, a simple kinetic weapon would surfice. Whilst a chain gun would chew up the average spy sat in no time, recoil would probably spin the attacking ship like a top! Maybe a rocket launcher or recoiless gun (even a 20mm recoiless weapon similar to the RT-20 rifle would devastate an unarmoured satellite) could be tried. Or an optically guided anti-tank missile like the Hellfire (not sure if they are cleared for zero-G and zero atmosphere operation, but I doubt it would take much to make a suitable model). Total destruction is not needed as damaging or removing the solar panels would render most satellites inoperative in short order, or targetting the antenna would leave it deaf and dumb. Unless the enemy have a recovery system like the shuttle or X-37B they'd never know what happened to their satellite!

A more tricky option would be to calculate an intercepting decaying orbit for a large block of stone and release it so it impacted the target satellite. Or simply get up close and then nudge or drag it out of orbit. Either way, a deniable kill. But if we really wanted to have fun, we could release a giant-size anti-static bag to wrap round the target so it cannot send or recieve signals!

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Thumb Down

No chance

I can assure you that no government has the finances to send up a space plane with enough fuel to change its orbit regularly, then deposit a bomb with enough intelligence and power to not crash into its _possible_ target accidentally for a few years, and repeat this across a whole fleet. Its just pure fantasy. And if they did want to do this a recoverable space plane would categorically be a completely crap way of achieving it.

Science 0 - 1 Thunderbirds.

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Anonymous Coward

same look not just because it is a small copy

The space shuttle and the x37 have the same look because both were build to have the "cross range" ability

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Alien

Alibi Exercise?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYzjMOfzJ_w#t=50m

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Grenade

it could easily make a close pass to one without anyone knowing

Lets hope they dont get their measurements wrong and end up colliding with a sat and cause some sat on sat action resulting in the downing of the entire planets sat infrastructure!

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Gold badge
Pint

Been here before

"Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying Spacecraft"*

Using a bunch of smaller sats to create an overall picture of an event, or provide 24/7 coverage has been done on several missions. The original "CLUSTER" mission (the one that got dropped in a mangrove swamp when its Ariane 5 free ride went bang) and the Surrey Satellite Disaster warning and monitoring network (a consortium of about 4 countries IIRC) both use it. Synthetic aperture RADAR and something similar in the optical bands would also be possible.

However when you get into the idea of a bunch of *single* function sats working together to form one "virtual" sat it gets a bit hazy. By dedicating one of them to have a 'mugeous attitude wheel you could get *very* sharp attitude control.

How do *transmit* those forces to the rest of the sat swarm?

Same with thermal management, power storage and positioning thrusters.

OTOH On orbit servicing or assembly, using Orbital Replaceable Units (ORUs) on the*rare* occasions it has been used (mostly in Hubble) has worked out pretty well. Likewise the NASA Multi-Mission Modular spacecraft using a core "Housekeeping" module truss with various bolt-on options linked to a mission specific structure worked quite well (and I think lowered design time and cost).

It comes down to what you can fit in the payload bay. Or rather into one of the standard container boxes which are meant to drop into the bay, eliminating a lot of the payload integration task on the pad (in *theory* at least).

And how many $138m launches you want to have in order to get a fully functioning sat into orbit.

Now fitting it on a a *truly* reusable booster system..........

*Try saying that after a few beers.

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> All details of the X-37B's mission are classified,

But they certainly don't mind you knowing that there's a really big end on that rocket.

More madness of metaphors (viz my comment on http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2010/04/22/boost_glide_arclight/)

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Go

X-51 plan B?

Couldn't this be another approach to the X-51 mission?...global response FAST!? So it has wings because after it's blasted into orbit, it deorbits and flies to its target where it unloads its payload of bombs, starship troopers, or whatever?

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Black Helicopters

You Only Live Twice

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062512/quotes

Houston CapCom: Hawaii to Jupiter 16. Repeat: Hawaii to Jupiter 16. There is an unidentified object on our screen, closing fast.

Astronaut - American Spacecraft #1: [Performing an EVA] We see nothing. Can you give me a bearing?

Houston CapCom: Appears to be coming up fast from astern

Astronaut - American Spacecraft #1: Hey, NOW I see it. It's another spacecraft! I repeat: it's ANOTHER SPACECRAFT!

Houston CapCom: Chris, this is flight. Does it look like a close pass?

Astronaut - American Spacecraft #1: You're breaking up. Say again!

Houston CapCom: Repeat: Does it look like a close pass?

Astronaut - 1st American Spacecraft: [inside spacecraft] Hey Chris what's happening?

Astronaut - American Spacecraft #1: Flight, it's coming right at us! The FRONT is OPENING UP! I REPEAT: THE FRONT IS OPENING UP! It's coming right at us...

Houston CapCom: Chris, Get back in! Get back in!

That is all!!

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Big Brother

WhyRless?

Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying Spacecraft. The idea is to have the various components of a normal big satellite organised in a wirelessly-linked cluster of small orbiting machines, a so-called virtual satellite.

Why not wirefully linked so no one else can hear them talking or interfere with them talking.

Also it will save fuel bills as when you move one, the rest will have to follow. That might save them the expense of invading Iran.

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Anonymous Coward

An arial recycle bin?

Looks like these things could be used for flying garbage trucks. Recovering dead communication and living enemy spy satellites could be possible.

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Everybody form a circle, hands to the right...

Wow, fiction doesn't come together this fast by accident. X-37 isn't a gunship. There are even pictures of it on wikipedia. It might deliver a payload (not clear) but its main function is to get into near-LEO quickly and cheaply.

It isn't about to leave junk in orbit, nearly 30% of ALL the junk in LEO are the smithereens from that horrible Chinese satellite-explosion test.

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Coat

I'm with The Objective Guy

While I might welcome so-many exercises in story-telling, if only for the merits of creativity, but if so many really unknowing people would actually believe they can make credible speculations out of it? That's too much.

I'd just as soon see the daily news delivered by a seven-year-old - at least, by one who would be wise enough to know that his or her speculations are not qualifiable as actual knowledge, and who would not propose to have his or her speculations mistaken as if it was anything otherwise. Projects of a broad magnitude can be tough enough to execute, without a bunch of people playing confused, uneducated rabble lost in ankle-grab games, about it - no joke.

Mine's the one without any tinfoil hats in the pocket.

Anonymous because maybe some people actually like being in the confused rabble group

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Joke

All your satz are belong to ...

... U.S.

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Too many F's

FFS

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What the X-37B is doing up there.

Folks,

I'll tell you exactly what that little "stealth" shaped ship is doing. In case of war, knocking out enemy satellites is a big deal. You have heard of the rocket type intercepts where we launch something, but you can bet a quick defense is to just move out the way, change orbits...

Here is where the X37-B and it's low radar signature and payload bay, and manipulator arm come in handy. Why not just pay a visit now to those nasty old satellites and leave a small amount of high explosive with a radio trigger with each of them?

When war comes, just give the command to detonate! Just in case the other-side makes a repair visit to their satellite, also equip the explosive device with a little spring push-away; also radio activated.

The only way they know you are "visiting" is ground based radar and that nice 'curvy' shape is great for ant-stealth, and there is more to the twin V tail than fiting in launch shroud. The F-22 also has a V-tail.

Of course, I'm just guessing!

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Gold badge
Boffin

Some notes on reconassance satellites

The tend to orbit at low altitudes to get clearer pictures.

They tend to have *relatively* short life expectancies.

They tend to be *very* expensive (as far as anyone can tell).

So a vehicle which could carry *different* sensor packages for as long as a regular sat (say 260 days) and then did a controlled re-entry and recovery allows *multiple* packages to be *developed* in parallel , while allowing their test (or if they can be incorporated into some kind of *recoverable* payload) and recovery with *much* improved cost effectiveness. Put the packages on rotation, launch into *relatively* high orbit and recover them when they have decayed and/or run low on propellant.

Of course you still need the $138m EELV to put it up

No anti-satellite mission at all and still (potentially) a *very* worthwhile investment.

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