Just when NASA is struggling to get funds for its future LEO and Moon missions, the military of course has no issue what-so-ever for funding:
You would think that an unpiloted space plane built to rocket spaceward from Florida atop an Atlas booster, circle the planet for an extended time, then land on autopilot on a California runway would be big news. But for the U.S. Air Force X-37B project — seemingly, mum’s the word.
There is an air of vagueness regarding next year’s Atlas Evolved Expendable launch of the unpiloted, reusable military space plane. The X-37B will be cocooned within the Atlas rocket’s launch shroud — a ride that’s far from cheap.
While the launch range approval is still forthcoming, SPACE.com has learned that the U.S. Air Force has the X-37B manifested for an April 2010 liftoff.
As a mini-space plane, this Boeing Phantom Works craft has been under development for years. Several agencies have been involved in the effort, NASA as well as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and various arms of the U.S. Air Force.
Over the last few months, I’ve been in touch with DARPA, Boeing, the Pentagon, the U.S. Air Force Space Command, as well as NASA itself. Either you get a “not in our portfolio” or are given a “go to” pass to another agency. Just a few weeks ago, I even commandeered a face-to-face “no comment” from a top Pentagon official for Air Force space programs about X-37B.
The tight-lipped factor surrounding the space plane, its mission, and who is in charge is curious. Such a hush-hush factor seems to mimic in pattern that mystery communications spacecraft lofted last month aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, simply called PAN. Its assignment and what agency owns it remains undisclosed.
But in a brief burst of light eking from the new era of government transparency, I did score this comment from NASA.
While the program is now under the U.S. Air Force, NASA is looking forward to receiving data from the advanced technology work.
“NASA has a long history of involvement with the X-37 program. We continue to monitor and share information on technology developments,” said Gary Wentz, chief engineer Science and Missions Systems Office at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. “We are looking forward to a successful first flight and to receiving data from some advanced technologies of interest to us, such as thermal protection systems, guidance, navigation and control, and materials for autonomous re-entry and landing.”
The vehicle itself is about 29 feet long with a roughly 15-foot wingspan and weighs in at over five tons at liftoff. Speeding down from space, the craft would likely make use of Runway 12/30 — 15,000 feet long by 200 feet wide — at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Vandenberg serves as an emergency space shuttle landing strip, as a second backup after California’s Edwards Air Force Base – which has also been noted as a landing spot for the X-37B.
Once in orbit, what such a vehicle might enable depends on the eye of the beholder. Intelligence gathering, kicking off small satellites, testing space gear are feasible duties, as is developing reusable space vehicle technologies.
Space test platform
Just last month, a U.S. Air Force fact sheet noted that the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), located in Washington, D.C. “is working on the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle to demonstrate a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the United States Air Force.”
The mission of the RCO is to expedite development and fielding of select Department of Defense combat support and weapon systems by leveraging defense-wide technology development efforts and existing operational capabilities.
“The problem with it [X37-B] is whether you see it as a weapons platform,” said Theresa Hitchens, former head of the Center for Defense Information’s Space Security Program, now Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in Geneva, Switzerland.
“It then becomes, if I am not mistaken, a Global Strike platform. There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about Global Strike as a concept,” Hitchens told SPACE.com.
The implications of the program as a possible space weapon are surely not lost on potential U.S. competitors, Hitchens said, who may well see anti-satellites (ASATs) as a leveler.
“Would this thing be vulnerable to ASATs? Yes, if it stayed on orbit any length of time,” Hitchens added. “While I see value of such a platform as a pop-up reconnaissance or even communications platform, if weaponized it becomes yet another reason for other nations to consider building dangerous ASATs,” she cautioned.
Another mission question is, to what extent the X-37B might play into the recent announcement that NASA is partnering with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to develop a technology roadmap for the commercial reusable launch vehicle, or RLV, industry.
All that said, and after years in the making, the X-37B is approaching its first globe-trotting, milestone making and historic flight – that much is known.
My my, I’m sure it’s just everyone’s imagination this little Pentagon item exists!
It makes you wonder what else is up there?
Maybe this is the real reason the Pentagon wants Gary McKinnon sooo Bad?
‘Extraterrestrial Officers?’ Hmm…
If you think this is BS, remember the military always had a more advanced space program than NACA/NASA.
The above space plane has its’ roots in Project Dinasoar.
And Neil Armstrong was involved in that!
After a little more digging, I found this article about Excalibur Almaz Limited, a private international corporation that has purchased old Soviet top secret space technology from the 1970s:
The project is led by Excalibur Almaz Limited (EA), an international space exploration company that has teamed with the Almaz RRV spacecraft manufacturer and other Russian and U.S. companies. EA is led by Art Dula founder and CEO of the venture.
The EA management team includes some of NASA’s most senior Apollo and space shuttle program managers, including George W.S. Abby and Jay Honeycutt, former directors of the Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers.
Dula has also contracted with several international companies to help out. They include Space Flight Operations (SFO) a subsidiary of United Space Alliance in the United States; EADS Astrium Space Transportation in Europe; and Japan Manned Space Systems in Japan. EA intends to begin flight tests of the Almaz hardware by 2012 and to launch its first revenue flight as early as 2013.
Excalibur has raised “tens of millions of dollars” to initiate what will become a several hundred million dollar program, Dula tells Spaceflight Now. He has spent more than 20 years eying this specific Almaz program, something I can vouch for from my own experience with the Almaz program in Russia.
He also says “the business plan closes” generating profits within a few years. His surveys have found research and science customers for space missions that are not tourist hops, but less demanding than ISS operations.
The program is about to redo a science/industrial user study it did once in 2006. Dula says individual contacts already indicate there is a strong market for science and industrial missions that would not have to fly on the International Space Station and want to spend less time aloft than an ISS flight. Each mission will be piloted by an experienced cosmonaut or astronaut and can carry 2 researchers.
The reusable Russian hardware purchased to initiate the venture was built more than 30 years ago as part of a large Soviet space reconnaissance program that was killed by the Soviets, much like its U.S. counterpoint was canceled by the U.S. Air Force.
That Russian hardware will now be used to “open a new era of private orbital space flight for commercial customers, using updated elements of the Almaz space system,” says Dula.He has over 30 years of experience as a Houston attorney specializing in commercial space, aerospace, export control and intellectual property law . He has also served as a Director and General Counsel for several aerospace companies, including Eagle Aerospace, Inc. and Space Services, Inc., which launched the first private U.S. space vehicle; and Spacehab, Inc., which built the Spacehab modules for the U.S. Space Shuttle. He also served as a Director and President of Space Commerce Corporation, the first US-Russian aerospace joint venture.
His management team includes former U.S. astronaut Leroy Chiao as Executive Vice President for Technical Operations. Chiao has launched three times on the shuttle, and once on the Soyuz to the ISS where he has done six spacewalks in both U.S. and Russian space suits. Chiao also commanded the ISS Expedition 10 crew spending 6.5 months in space. He is now also a broadcast partner with Miles O’Brien for Spaceflight Now’s highly successful shuttle prelaunch webcasts.
“We have purposely been operating for the last few years under the radar because we did not want to be looked upon as some of these companies that later fizzle, but start out with fancy graphics about their credentials in ‘New Space’,” Chiao says.
The project’s primary technical partner in Russia is NPO Mashinostroyenia (pronounced machine-ah-st-roy-a-ya (NPROM). The highly regarded company which builds the reusable Almaz reentry vehicles also built the Almaz space stations that were at the heart of the military reconnaissance system.
Somewhat resembling civilian Salyut stations, but with a far different mission, the Almaz stations were renamed Salyut 2, 3 and 5 as a covert cover and launched in the 1970s. Salyut 2 failed before any cosmonauts could be launched to it, but Salyut 3 and 5 were generally successful in demonstrating manned military space capability. Two more civilian Salyuts (6 and 7) were launched, before Mir’s launch in 1986.
In addition to buying several Almaz reentry vehicles, the company has also bought two complete Almaz space station hulls.
It has no plans to outfit and launch the stations, however, until substantial business experience with the reentry vehicle mounted on a service module laboratory.
The Soviet Almaz TKS reentry vehicle/service module design planned for commercialization is remarkably similar to the equally secret 1960s U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) reconnaissance spacecraft.
That system would have used a Gemini spacecraft with a hatch in its heat shield to enable American military astronauts to come and go between the Gemini and the laboratory module mounted underneath. The project was killed before it ever carried astronauts.
I find it interesting to observe that the MOL/Gemini combo looks remarkably like the only UFO I have seen when I was 8 years old (in 1967).
The only difference being the object had antenna sticking out the front and made a humming noise, not a jet or rocket sound. No contrail either.
But I digress.
I imagine Art Dula, the CEO of the company, is getting a good deal on this stuff.
He witnessed some of the equipment being launched on a Proton rocket in the 1980s, toward the end of the Soviet Union.
He also is literary executor of the late science fiction author Robert Heinlein, an early champion of private and commercial space enterprises.
That could be a good story itself for another day.
Lately I have been railing against NASA’s covert space program and related cover-ups. “Covert space programs”, you say? “Dad, you’ve really taken a turn around the deep bend this time”, you’d note.
Well, maybe I have. NASA claims that it would be the first to proclaim that there’s other life in the Universe from the highest roof-tops and towers, given the proper evidence. One must remember NASA is a government agency, and thusly subject to orders from said government, or an entity that really is the government! If NASA is told to cover something up because the entity deems it so, they will.
The following are two videos that show that NASA is very aware there is life outside of Earth, and is actively covering it up, at least from the Apollo days (probably further back).
The question you want to ask yourselves are, “Is this all just disinformation to spread virally throughout the ‘Tubes, or is this possibly real?”
You be the judges.
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