Feeds

US X-37B robot minishuttle: 'Secret space warplane'?

No, but it could do some naughty orbital stuff

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

Air Force 'Mission 3B' back on the cards?

The "some missions" referred to by the Columbia report were probably the so-called 3A and 3B flight plans (described here) which called for single-polar-orbit hops from Vandenberg, either deploying or recovering a spy satellite without any pass over the USSR by the shuttle. Later, even more difficult missions were specified by the Air Force, in which the shuttle would both deploy and then recover a spy satellite during a single mission.

The X-37B unmanned spaceplane being prepared for launch. Credit: USAF

A certain Shuttle-y look about the wings.

The military spy-sat requirements have been blamed by many space enthusiasts for crippling the shuttle's design. It's argued that without its large, heavy, heatshielded wings - necessary for the cross-range re-entry requirement, rather than for actually landing as such - it might have been a much more efficient machine for putting stuff into space.

In the event, by the time the Shuttle began to fly its performance was seen as deficient for polar-orbit spysat missions lifting increasingly hefty "KeyHole" payloads. High-angle launches forfeit the valuable speed boost gained by eastward takeoffs close to the Equator, as from Canaveral, and require more grunt from the launcher. Plans were developed in the 1980s for lightened solid boosters, and even extra strap-on liquid rockets, to be used on missions out of the multibillion-dollar shuttle base at Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex Six.

Then came the Challenger disaster of 1986, which imposed years more delay and still more expense. By the time the shuttle had weathered that storm, the military had mostly turned its back on the troubled spaceplane. No shuttles ever flew from Vandenberg on polar missions, and the ambitious military plans to recover and re-use colossally expensive spy sats - perhaps modifying and upgrading them, or repairing them after faults, as one might a normal aeroplane - came to nothing.

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
ALIEN BODY FOUND ON MARS: Curiosity rover snaps extraterrestrial
And NASA kept evidence to itself for over a month
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
NASA: ALIENS and NEW EARTHS will be ours inside 20 years
ETs, habitable planets will soon pop up with our new 'scopes
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.