11 October 2011

USAF and Boeing Have Not Abandoned Manned Space

The Air Force’s mysterious X-37B “space plane” is only on its second, eight-month-plus orbital mission, ostensibly conducting science experiments. But manufacturer Boeing has already drawn up plans for a major upgrade to the nimble, 29-foot-long robot — one that could more than double the vehicle’s size and make room for up to six astronauts. _Wired
While Obama's NASA may have abandoned the manned space mission, other US entities have not -- including the USAF, SpaceX and Boeing. The US military understands the advantage of occupying the high ground, and private space companies understand the immense wealth to be made by making space accessible.

The USAF secret unmanned space plane known as the X37 has already performed two secret orbital missions. Now, Boeing is revealing plans to extend the capacity of the X37 so that it could deliver cargo to the International Space Station, and eventually carry a human crew to orbit.
Boeing is studying scaled-up variants of the reusable X-37B orbital test vehicle (OTV) for potential delivery of cargo and crew to the International Space Station (ISS) and other low-Earth-orbit destinations.

...The plan builds on the ongoing OTV demonstration with the U.S. Air Force, the first phase of which ended when the classified, unmanned OTV-1 demonstration flight concluded in December 2010 with an autonomous landing at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., following 244 days in orbit. A second mission, OTV-2, is under way.

OTV-2 has been in space since March 5, and assuming it has not already been covertly recovered, is expected to remain in space until at least mid-October. A landing around Oct. 15 will equal the OTV-1’s mission length. Given the 270-day mission endurance limit of the X-37B, as earlier described by the Air Force, the early March launch means the landing at Vandenberg can be expected on or before Nov. 30. _AviationWeek
The X-37B is launched on an Atlas V rocket and has small thrusters that allow it to change its orbit at the whim of ground controllers. But, like the space shuttle, it glides in for an unpowered landing. So far, one X-37B has completed one eight-month space flight, while a second, launched in April, is still in orbit. Its missions are secret - but space flight enthusiasts have done their best to track them.

...Success at this level would then pave the way for "a human-carrying derivative" capable of carrying "five to seven astronauts", Grantz says. Space.com has pictures from Grantz's paper showing what an "X-37C" derivative with a 6-person pressurised crew compartment could look like. Smaller numbers of astronauts could allow for more cargo, says the website. _NewScientist
We do not know if Obama will do the same thing to this USAF space program as he did to NASA's space program. If so, the future of US space efforts may well be entirely up to private sector companies like SpaceX, if they can survive Obama.


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Blogger Loren said...

I got the impression Obama did manned spaceflight fine, telling NASA to go commercial.

I still want a billion dollars for half a dozen trips to the moon. Full Dragon load of astronauts each.

Tuesday, 11 October, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Obama did manned spaceflight as well as he has done the rest of the economy, I suppose. As well as he could do without any interest in or knowledge of the subject. As well as one can do from the golf course.

Loren, do you really think risking the loss of the entire ISS was a fine way to handle manned spaceflight? Leaving this big gap in reliable space access that risks the only long term manned presence in space sounds like something a very uninterested president might do.

An interesting commentary when the best a president can do is have government takes its hands off something. Perhaps he should try a similar approach with the rest of the government?

But then he would have to change his name to Ron Paul.

Wednesday, 12 October, 2011  

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