Feeds

Russia has 'secret space warplane' to match US X-37B

Cold War 'Hurricane' shuttle-interceptor reborn?

The next step in data security

Still though, it is secret. And it has the same wings that the US military insisted on for the Shuttle

In this view, the X-37B is more in the nature of a swappable-payload reusable satellite than a "secret space warplane". But there are other factors which make it – and the suggestion that Russia has such technology too – quite interesting.

First, there's the fact that the X-37B is funded out of the so-called "black" or secret budget and the US Air Force refuses to offer any serious details on its specifications or mission. The only reason anybody knows about it is that before being taken over by the military the project was run and funded by various different US agencies including NASA. So it is "secret", at least.

NASA's original long-endurance X-37 orbiter concept

See? Just a satellite with wings

Second, the X-37B has a powerful orbital manoeuvring engine and a decent size fuel tank – and because it is reusable, its controllers don't need to eke out its fuel for years the way they would with a normal satellite. This means that the little spaceplane is well suited to the making of major orbit changes. This will allow it to appear suddenly over places it isn't expected and to evade location from below for quite long periods – as it did during its maiden flight, in fact.

Third, there's the fact that the X-37B's wings have a strong resemblance to those of the Shuttle. These wings are a good deal bigger and heavier than they need to be merely to achieve a runway landing from orbit: it would have been quite possible to use smaller "stub" wings, or even design the craft as a so-called "lifting body", using no wings at all and gaining lift from the shape of its fuselage.

The Soviet 'Buran' spaceplane makes its unmanned touchdown at Baikonur. Credit: NASA

Looks familiar – but it's actually Buran, the Shuttleski

The Shuttle has big wings because the secret US space military wanted it to: the larger wing area means that the Shuttle has what is known as "cross range" capability. This means that the Shuttle, re-entering Earth's atmosphere, doesn't have to land at a site lying directly beneath its orbital track – it can glide hypersonically 1,000 miles to one side during its descent.

The US military of decades ago planned to use this capability to carry out cunning missions in which Shuttles would lift off from Vandenberg on the California coast and orbit the planet just once at a high polar angle before re-entering to land. Without cross-range, this would bring the Shuttle down in the ocean, as the Earth would have rotated beneath it while it was circling around. But the big delta wings mean that a Shuttle would actually be capable of setting down at Vandenberg again without trouble.

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.