What is the XB37 Drone Shuttle doing up there? In the face of secrecy, one can only speculate…
But please feel free to share your speculations!
.Succeeding on a one-shot launch attempt before Hurricane Irma shuts down the Cape Canaveral spaceport, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket thundered into orbit Thursday with the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane, a reusable robotic mini-shuttle that could stay aloft for years with clandestine on-board experiments…..
…..Following guidelines set by the Air Force, SpaceX ended live commentary on the progress of the second stage’s flight less than three minutes after liftoff. Video coverage of the booster’s plunge back to Earth continued, and three of the first stage’s Merlin 1D powerplants restarted high over the Atlantic Ocean for “boost-back” and “entry” burns to steer the rocket back toward land…..
….Built by Boeing’s Phantom Works division and managed by the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, each spaceship has a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.5 meters) and a length of more than 29 feet (8.9 meters). The ship’s wings fit snugly inside the 17-foot-diameter (5-meter) payload shrouds on the Falcon 9 and Atlas 5 rockets.
The X-37B, also called the Orbital Test Vehicle, weighs about 11,000 pounds (5 metric tons) and has typically orbited Earth at altitudes between 200 and 250 miles (320 to 400 kilometers).
No details about the X-37B’s altitude or orbital parameters were released for this mission, but safety notices published for pilots and mariners ahead of the launch suggested the rocket would place the miniature windowless space shuttle into an orbit tilted between roughly 40 and 65 degrees to the equator.
The Air Force announced before the launch that the fifth X-37B flight, known as OTV-5, would go into a higher-inclination orbit than earlier X-37B flights. The four X-37B missions to date flew in orbits tilted between 38 and 43.5 degrees to the equator, but the this one will reach higher latitudes on each lap around Earth.
Military officials said launching the OTV-5 mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket adds to the program’s flexibility, demonstrating the X-37B can fly on two different types of boosters.
Several firsts are planned for the OTV-5 mission.
“The fifth OTV mission continues to advance the X-37B’s performance and flexibility as a space technology demonstrator and host platform for experimental payloads,” the Air Force said in a press release. “This mission carries small satellite ride shares and will demonstrate greater opportunities for rapid space access and on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies.
Military officials have lauded the X-37B’s ability to return experimental hardware back to Earth for inspection and reuse. The Air Force did not disclose whether the secondary payloads riding with the X-37B will deploy from the Falcon 9 rocket itself or from the spaceplane’s cargo bay.
“Building upon the fourth mission and previous collaboration with experiment partners, this mission will host the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader payload to test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long duration space environment,” the statement said.
The thermal spreader experiment will test three oscillating heat pipes. The new heat pipe technology is lighter and less expensive than components used on most satellites to keep internal avionics temperatures within safe margins.
“The three primary science objectives are to measure the initial on-orbit thermal performance, to measure long duration thermal performance, and to assess any lifetime degradation,” the Air Force Research Laboratory said in a fact sheet…..
…The rest of the flight plan remains secret, along with the mission’s planned duration.
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