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Antimatter Man
Join Date: May 2004
Location: that interweb thing
2010-04-22, 06:29

I will call you... Mini-Shuttle!

Air Force's semi-secret X-37B to launch today

Originally Posted by Spaceflightnow

Its cost and mission are classified, but a first-of-a-kind reusable miniature military space shuttle is on the launch pad ready to soar into orbit on an Atlas 5 rocket Thursday evening.

Under the cover of the Atlas 5's payload shroud, the X-37B is scheduled for launch at 7:52 p.m. EDT (2352 GMT) from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The launch window extends for 9 minutes.

The 196-foot-tall booster rolled to the launch pad Wednesday morning.

"Fundamentally, this is an updated version of the space shuttle," said Gary Payton, the U.S. Air Force's top civilian leader for military space programs. "The Air Force has a suite of military missions in space. This new vehicle could potentially help us do those missions better."

Although officials are openly discussing the X-37B platform itself, the Air Force is mum on exactly what payloads the unmanned ship carries inside its cargo hold, which is about the size of a pickup truck bed.

During several weeks or months in orbit, the X-37B will be a testbed for secret new technologies.

Future flights of the reusable spaceship could approach U.S. or foreign satellites, recover old spacecraft, or test out surveillance and repair techniques. The speculation leads some to voice concerns over the militarization of space.

During a teleconference with reporters Tuesday, Payton said none of those activities are part of the X-37B's first flight. The craft launching Thursday does not carry a robot arm like the shuttle, and there are no rendezvous objectives planned for the mission, according to Payton.

New heat shield technologies, advanced guidance and navigation, a solar power generation system, and new flight control systems are at the top of the list of public goals for the test flight.

"The primary objectives of the X-37 are to [prove] a new batch of vehicle technologies for America's future, plus readying and demonstratring the concept of operations for reusable experimental payloads," Payton said.

The X-37B will return to Earth only after it completes its top secret experiments in orbit.

... continues ...
More info (and hinted-at cutaway drawings) here

All those who believe in telekinesis, raise my hand.