Year in space with an unknown purpose: Shuttle successor, top-secret spacecraft X-37B

X-37B before the last launch

20 May it will be exactly a year since the launch of the space mission Boeing X-37, in which the reusable unmanned spacecraft X-37B OTV was launched on the Earth's orbit (start-USA-261). This is the fourth launch of devices in this series, the first of which took place in 2010 - but still not all questions have answers to these devices

. Boeing X-37, also known as the Orbital Test vehicles [Orbital Test Vehicle, OTV] - is a project of a small reusable orbital vehicle-drone. Its orbit takes a rocket and landed at the airport it makes using the wings, using lifting force. The project was launched by Boeing in 1999, commissioned by NASA and the US Air Force.

The initial development of the project, which invested in different proportions, NASA, the Air Force and Boeing, worth $ 192 million, and due to the success of the project aircraft manufacturer received in 2002 following a contract in the amount of $ 301 million already on the continued development.

X-37B on the runway in 2010

The whole project is based on the experience of the construction of reusable devices Space Shuttle Orbiter, goes into space 30 years, from 1981 to 2011. It was originally planned that the X-37 will be used for approaching the satellites and their repair, as will be put into orbit in the cargo bay of Space Shuttle (the length of the X-37 is 9 meters, Shuttle length - 37 meters). But then it was decided that the withdrawal of Space Shuttle is too costly program of space exploration, and the X-37 remade to orbit using a rocket.

In 2006, the US Air Force announced that they will be engaged in developing their own version of the X-37, which was named X-37B OTV. It was planned that the X-37B will be able to conduct on-orbit up to 270 days in a row. Secretary of the Air Force, said that the development of the project will focus on "risk reduction, experimentation, and development of working concepts of reusable space vehicles, in order to achieve long-term goals of space exploration»


comparing different devices

As a result, all the alterations, it was decided that the old hangars and landing at the space center strip to be used in the space X-37B will withdraw missiles "Atlas-V" (the first step of which uses the Russian RD-180 engines), and for the planting and maintenance of equipment Kennedy, who previously used the shuttle.

In this specific program goals and objectives BBC kept secret. Report only "testing technology to create reusable unmanned platforms for the US Air Force." Check e-board systems, Flight, navigation system, thermal and reentry. Current X-37B launch officially associated with testing the new engine version of the Hall effect (variations of the ion engine), which in the future it is planned to use on the NASA satellites.

Schematic representation

apparatus However, the US Air Force has repeatedly been accused of trying to create a space-based weapons, and the use of X-37B as a spy satellite. In 2012, statements were made about using it to spy on the first Chinese spacecraft orbiting station class "Tiangong-1" - though they were quite convincingly refuted by strong differences in devices orbits. In 2014, The Guardian led experts' opinion, considering that the unit is experiencing the work of systems for espionage and surveillance in harsh conditions of space.

device X-37B

Questions raises privacy details missions, in particular - the lack of accurate information about their duration. For example, the mission was supposed to last no more than 200 days, but three days later she had already fulfilled a year. If the Air Force really checked all the systems specified in the official description of the mission, their interests would be put drone as soon as possible to begin the study of the experimental results. Long as it stays in orbit corresponds to the behavior characteristic of observation satellites.

Of course, maintaining a halo of secrecy surrounding the experiments conducted by the military, it is not something unique. Maybe, X-37B is really a peaceful conducts various experiments and not for who is not spying. We can only hope that the new round of development of space technology will not lead to a new space arms race, although the preconditions for this are already emerging. Only in the beginning of May, the Washington Gazette «The Washington Post» published an article in which Russia and China are directly charged with the development of technologies that allow them to attack US space vehicles.



See also

New and interesting