back to article SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION

The United States’ hush-hush robot spaceplane, the mysterious X-37B, is due to touch down at the US military space base in California this week, following a 22-month clandestine mission in orbit above undisclosed nations. The US Air Force has so far launched two of the clandestine spaceships, which look a little like mini- …

Joke

Yo dawg

I heard you like space, so we put a plane in your plane so you can orbit while you orbit.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Yo dawg

Just admit it... you don't know how to structure one of those properly, do you?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Yo dawg

Yo Dawg, I thought that was a dog, so I replied with a dog to your dawg, so you can dawg while you're dogging.

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Coat

I find this report...

...specious.

***rimshot***

And my bets on what they were testing is that they're trying new ways to eavesdrop satellites data traffic. Another candidate would be a device for impersonating a GLONASS (or any other GPS satellite) satellite or disabling it, something that could be very handy in certain scenarios.

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Re: I find this report...

Im no expert on GPS but wouldn't it require multiple impersonation devices for it to be effective?

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Re: I find this report...

"And my bets on what they were testing is that they're trying new ways to eavesdrop satellites data traffic. Another candidate would be a device for impersonating a GLONASS (or any other GPS satellite) satellite or disabling it, something that could be very handy in certain scenarios."

http://www.spaceflight101.com/x-37b-otv-3-mission-updates.html

"Shortly after its launch, the spacecraft was spotted by amateur satellite trackers in an orbit of 345 by 363 Kilometers at an inclination of 43.5 degrees ... The vehicle maintained its orbit throughout the mission ..."

All 3 launches of the X-37B have gone into about the same orbit, 40-43 degrees at 300 to 400km altitude. That's nothing like the sun-synchronous orbits used by optical spy satellites and nowhere close to the much-higher, more-inclined GPS orbits. If the X-37B has the performance of the US shuttle, it couldn't get anywhere close to GPS/GLOSNASS orbital altitude.

Anybody know what kind of satellites use a low orbit at 40 to 43 degrees?

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Re: I find this report...

I don't know but I found a satellite with a similar orbit and NASA say:

"The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite was launched to monitor rainfall in the tropics. Therefore, it has a relatively low inclination (35 degrees), staying near the equator."

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/OrbitsCatalog/

Orbit:

Type: Non-sun-synchronous

Altitude: 350 km, boosted to 402 km on August

22, 2001

Inclination: 35°

"The TRMM orbit is non-sun- synchronous and initially was at an altitude of 350 km, until the satellite was boosted to 402 km on August 22, 2001. The objectives of TRMM center on rainfall and energy, including latent heat of condensation."

http://science-edu.larc.nasa.gov/SCOOL/pdf/TRMM.pdf

So what does this mean for 345 by 363 Kilometers at an inclination of 43.5 degrees?

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Re: I find this report...

I think -I'm no expert either- that a signal able to cover -even intermitently- the original signal would play havoc with missiles guidance systems that rely on GPS, and with all the military kit that uses GPS. And each of these 'impersonator satellites' could be able to impersonate several GPS satellites simultaneously.

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Coat

Re: I find this report...

Anybody know what kind of satellites use a low orbit at 40 to 43 degrees?

The decoy balloon?

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Re: I find this report...

Missiles tend to operate in the air, so with view of a lot of satellites. If one of them was looking out of sync with the others it's likely just discard that satellite.

Also, missiles use inertial nav, star-fixes and other such techniques for nav rather than just relying on GPS. Otherwise a simple GPS blocker would have them dropping out of the sky.

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: I find this report...still have Glonass and Magellan...

Messing w/ Russian and French GPS systems are a first Strike Act of War that gets you green glass - real quick, followed by a revenge strike from China...

IMHO= no one is that dumb...RS.

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Re: I find this report...still have Glonass and Magellan...

"French GPS"

The French have their own GPS fleet up there? When did that happen?

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Holmes

Re: I find this report...

Low Earth Orbit communications satellites for LEO Phone systems. They could be used to provide LEO Phone coverage in war zones where cell phones no longer work (due to a lack of surviving cell-towers).

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Black Helicopters

Re: I find this report...

"Also, missiles use inertial nav, star-fixes and other such techniques for nav rather than just relying on GPS"

Yeah it's intentionally difficult to screw with ICBMs navigation - the whole idea is to dissuade governments (namely: Russia, given they're currently the only realistic candidate) from screwing with GPS satellites - they use multiple systems and cross-check the data, also the US government still broadcasts the encrypted signal along side the plain text signal - one would assume in the case of missile systems it'd still use that and therefore be hard to forge against US/UK/others with access.

But yeah you don't send up a system like this without intent for screwery - they're obviously up to something but I wouldn't like to even take a wild guess. Alright lets have a crack - pissing around with civilian comms satelites; backdoors et al? Would certainly fit the trend.

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Mushroom

Re: I find this report...

ICBM's, well some do...

This ground track might be of interest, as might the book.

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=a_azhFUJhF0C&pg=PA18&lpg=PA18&dq=low+orbit+at+40+to+43+degrees&source=bl&ots=oWIklNSTZD&sig=b86Y8ekQG_ao3XTm_nafSallBi8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=PBo9VOb5GaXP7Qbay4CYDQ&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=low%20orbit%20at%2040%20to%2043%20degrees&f=false

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Mushroom

I wonder if theX-37B story is related to this one?

http://www.timesofisrael.com/massive-blast-reported-at-suspected-iranian-nuke-facility-2/

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Re: I wonder if theX-37B story is related to this one?

Yes, 'rods from God' were my third option.

But I don't think it would make much sense with the current situation with ISIS.

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Re: I wonder if theX-37B story is related to this one?

"But I don't think it would make much sense with the current situation with ISIS."

I don't think sense comes into US military or foreign policy thinking. The US armed and radicalised the Afghans to spite the Ruskies in the 1980s. That wasn't too sensible in hindsight. The US encouraged and supported a selected a range of unsavoury middle east countries whilst turning a blind eye to their behaviours in funding and supporting extremism. Again, doesn't look too sensible now. The US invaded Iraq on spurious evidence, and without any plan for stabilising the country after achieving "regime change". Doesn't look too sensible now. The US gave the post invasion Iraqi army plenty of weapons, many now in the hands of IS. You know what I'm going to say. The US trained anti-Assad fighters in Jordan and supplied them with weapons, before those fighters quite predictably went and aligned with IS or Al Nusra....not too sensible again. Does anybody notice a trend here?

So in context, angering the Iranians with an unprovoked attack just when the US might be making some slow progress in negotiations, and when the US might need their help clearing up a mess of US making, that is definitely consistent with the US track record.

Of course, only a cynic would take the view that the US needs Iran to be combative and under sanctions, because unless Iran's huge gas reserves are nearly sterilised by sanctions, the global gas price would plunge, and all the US shale gas producers would go to the wall (along with their political donations), and the mirage of US energy independence would evaporate.

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Re: Iran's huge gas reserves

Not sure about your last para here - although buying some cheap foriegn gas for a bit might hurt local shale producers, it leaves that unused shale gas in the ground in the US. So it will still be there to help US energy independence - to whatever extent it can - if/when needed.

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Trollface

Shale gas in the ground

Isn't doing anything to meet the over-optimistic ROI figures I gave the shareholders! Screw this long term planning of energy requirements, I'm trying to make a fast buck!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I wonder if theX-37B story is related to this one?

If the sighted and tracked orbit story is true, then the X-37B would be more in line to spy on North Korea than Iran.

Regardless of civilian tracking. You can bet all of the major super powers would be tracking the flight path of the X-37B. (Assuming that they all have the capabilities to do so ...)

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Re: Iran's huge gas reserves@ Paul Kinsler

"it leaves that unused shale gas in the ground in the US. So it will still be there to help US energy independence"

Maybe, but I doubt it. We still haven't seen the real economic cost of shale gas, and we won't until we've been through a few more years of asset renewal cycles, well declines and redrilling and so forth (plus the inevitable bankruptcies of many over-valued but under-capitalised newly listed companies). It's significant that the old "big oil" companies are treading very carefully in shale plays - they're worried about being left out, but they know that the maths doesn't work.

Gas prices have to rise a lot before shale will be genuinely economic in my view. As you say it sits there "until needed", but I suspect that before then the vast amounts of money being poured into energy research will have produced a range of technologies that are competitive at lower costs than shale gas can ever be produced for (not necessarily renewables), plus improving energy efficiency of buildings that reduces heating and cooling demands, and thus shrinks the gas market.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I wonder if theX-37B story is related to this one?

What if it was a vehicle in a vehicle? Say that what gets sent into space and stays in that orbit, is just the carrier. The payload shot up was released and it did it's mission and has since returned back to the mother ship.

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Re: I wonder if theX-37B story is related to this one?

"So in context, angering the Iranians with an unprovoked attack just when the US might be making some slow progress in negotiations, and when the US might need their help clearing up a mess of US making, that is definitely consistent with the US track record."

I think describing the progress as slow is wildly optimistic! I don't think there has been any progress in the negotiations at all. It may be the case that completely wiping out a portion of the nuclear programme with a "magic" weapon may well encourage negotiations.

I don't think an Iranian backed "solution" along the lines of Hezbollah or Hamas is any more preferable to a Saudi\Kuwaiti\UAE backed IS or al-Nusra Front problem.

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@Ledswinger

You do realize that exporting natural gas is a lot more difficult/expensive than exporting oil, right? As a result, the gas price in the US is significantly lower than it is in the ROW because of the greatly increased production due to fracking. More to the point, if other places in the world started producing a lot more gas it won't affect the price in the US much at all. There's a world price for oil, but that's not the case for natural gas.

It might affect those who want to put up cyro stations to liquify and compress gas to be exported from the US to take advantage of that price difference, but as no one is doing that yet there's no one to protect. And no guarantee that by the time all that infrastructure was set up, that enough other places might doing fracking and getting their own cheap gas that the ability to exploit that price difference disappears.

I think you'll need to find some other conspiracy theory to run with, yours has too many holes in it.

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Re: I wonder if theX-37B story is related to this one?

If Iran thought there was even a slight hint of outside influence it would take them seconds to blame the US, Israel or both. They obviously know what happened.

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Black Helicopters

Does it actually do anything

Or is it's "secret, but not totally secret" nature just intended to distract from something else and waste the resources of other countries trying to work out what it's up to?

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Re: Does it actually do anything

Short answer: yes.

Did that help?

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Re: Does it actually do anything

I think its more of 'If we don't spend all of our budget this year, they'll cut it next year' type of thinking that is endemic to Government / Defense folk.

Or closer to the Cold-War thinking where a scientist would come up with some crazy idea, it'd get leaked to the other side who'd think that it was actually being built, so they'd come up with a counter-measure for it, which would be leaked and then the first side would try and come up with something to counter-act that, repeat ad nauseum. Sometimes those thing will be built (Think Czar Bomba, the B-2 bomber, massive underground bunker facilities, etc; then there is the insanity that was the PsyOps crap, like the US funding pop-art painters to counteract Russian realist artists).

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The Art of deception

With my left hand I'm waving the "secret" but quite visible X-37B spy/weapon/space plane in your face, with my right hand .........

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Anonymous Coward

This thing might be spying on everyone, hell, the US military probably knows exactly where North Korea's leader is due to the existence of this thing. BUT, it could very well be nothing at all, a simple space plane that has nothing in it but exist simply to MAKE everyone THINK it can do all sorts of magical spying.

Keep 'em guessing, make them THINK you have the ability to do something so they'll THINK twice about messing with you....

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Perhaps the shuttle has a multi-role mission. It stays aloft in case it is needed for anti-satellite attacks or counter attacks. The other possibility is surveillance or course This would explain why the shuttle goes on such long missions.It also serves as a possible repair and or probably a satellite repair vehicle. I am wondering if the shuttle has ever docked at the international space station.

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"Perhaps the shuttle has a multi-role mission."

And we may not see the role for which its peculiar capabilities were intended until some emergency arises. Because once people realize what it can do (outside of traditional spy sat capabilities) the cat will be out of the bag so to speak.

There have been some theories floating around about single orbit missions with cross range capability for quick recovery. And some of the performance characteristics required to support this have undoubtedly been tested during its longer stays in space. But to date, nothing has been done that could not have been accomplished by a typical 'one shot' craft so as not to give away the DoD's intentions.

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Anonymous Coward

Wave your hands, ESA.

I think the US DoD has a spaceship that could recover your two mis-inserted satellites. I bet the DoD'd even deliver them to you for enough money.

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Even with ludicrous fuel tanks, the chances of being able to rendezvous or intercept a target not targeted before launch is unlikely.

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Mushroom

You've not played much Kerbal Space Program then?

(Icon fitting to the game!)

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I think the last proposed spacecraft for brute force, mid-flight orbital changes to inspect satellites was, of all things, the Apollo LEM. Its two stages held a lot of delta-V, around 5000m/s. That'll get you a decent plane change even in low Earth orbit, or let you play tricks like making plane changes by boosting to high orbits / lunar flybys and returning to any desired orbit you want.

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Big Brother

Tomorrow?

How we know it didn't land last week?

Sleep well, electric sheep.

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Just a multi-billion space junket

Ever looking to turn a profit, the MIPC (Mil-Ind-Pol Complex) has announced a all-expenses paid heavenly trip for a passenger who "has everything."

A cool 2B USD (pre-tax but don't worry) will buy you a seat on a plushly outfitted space capsule where you'll enjoy gorgeous views of a famous blue marble, over and over again. We will ask you to snap a few photos as you pass over special landmarks, but we won't charge you for the film development.

Food will also be complementary but we can't guarantee waste disposal so eat lightly. For entertainment, you can bring your own companion but rations/disposal will be, naturally, affected.

Just think about how you'll be able to brag to your Floriday golfing buddies when/if you get back to terra firma.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just a multi-billion space junket

Ha. Why pay $2b when ~20M will get you up to the ISS.

I would.

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Black Helicopters

Wings

"the X-37Bs with their wings and resulting "cross range" capability"

Wings are only relevant in the atmosphere. Unless the spacecraft periodically dips into the atmosphere (say, ca. 100 mile altitude or lower), its wings are irrelevant for orbital changes. But, lots of propellant is needed for lowering the orbit and then raising it again.

"Cross range" (change in inclination) when in orbit is at also at the expense of lots of propellants.

My guess is that the major job done by the wings is to allow the spacecraft to land conveniently at specific military bases, away from prying eyes, unlike, e.g., having to send ships out to sea to retrieve a capsule, or having the payload go splat at some deserty place.

Note that the latest design of the classical space capsule does incorporate some aerodynamic lift, giving it a bit of range and cross-range flexibility.

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Re: Wings

Look up "Space Maneuver Vehicle". The wings allow it to make very large orbit plane changes without using a lot of fuel. It can make a plane change twice as large as using fuel alone. I think the specs are a 40 degree plane change capability.

Since the program is run by the "Rapid Deployment Office", the purpose is to have a space weapon which can change orbits on a moments notice and sneak up to attack, either a ground or space target.

It could even change orbit, attack, and change orbit again on the side of the earth opposite tracking stations so an adversary would think their satellite just failed, or was hit by space debris.

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Megaphone

Come in X-37B !

Your time is up!

</old time gag>

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Joke

Re: Come in X-37B !

Oh no, 8LE-X, you are in trouble!

</childhood gag about a boating pond>

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deja vu all over again

You know, in the late fifties and early sixties the USAF had this little spaceplane planned, the Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar. Likewise it had very little in the way of missions planned, and it got canceled.

Facetiously, the only real uses for space have been biological research, communications, navigation and remote sensing. If this X-37B can't fill any of those roles, it's just a waste of money.

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Re: deja vu all over again

Actually the original X-20 mission was nuke warhead delivery, a manned space plane would have been able to hit closer to a target than the crude 1950's ICBM guidance systems. Improved guidance systems made the X-20 redundant.

http://www.astronautix.com/craft/dynasoar.htm

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Re: deja vu all over again

"Facetiously, the only real uses for space have been biological research, communications, navigation and remote sensing."

And materials research.

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Hmmm...

"...a 22-month mission doing nobody knows what ..."

and "nobody" could include the USAF, if their track record is examined...

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Facepalm

Here We Go Again.

AHhhhh......that paragon of in-depth [spacious-specious] reporting opines:

"This potential capability might be the reason why the X-37B was dubbed a "space warplane" by Iranian state media channel Press TV."'

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