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Boeing X-37

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Last Updated: 02 July 2021

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Boeing X-37

RoleUncrewed spaceplane
National originUnited States
ManufacturerBoeing Defense, Space & Security
First flight7 April 2006 (first drop test)
Introduction22 April 2010 (first spaceflight)
StatusIn service, 5 spaceflights completed , 6th spaceflight in progress
Primary userX-37A: NASA / DARPA, X-37B: United States Space Force
Number builtX-37A: 1, X-37B: 2
Developed fromBoeing X-40

Mission X - 37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an Experimental Test Program to demonstrate Technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned Space Test platform For US Air Force. Primary objectives of X - 37B are twofold; reusable Spacecraft Technologies for America's future in Space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examine, on Earth. Features X - 37B Orbital Test Vehicle is the newest and most Advanced re - entry Spacecraft. Base on NASA's X - 37 design, unmanned OTV is designed for vertical launch to low Earth Orbit altitudes where it can perform long - duration Space Technology Experimentation and testing. Upon Command from ground, OTV autonomously re - enters the atmosphere, descends, and lands horizontally on the Runway. X - 37B is the first vehicle since NASA's Shuttle Orbiter with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis, but with an on - Orbit time of 270 Days or greater, X - 37B can stay in Space for much longer. Technologies Being Test in the Program include Advanced guidance, navigation and Control, Thermal protection Systems, avionics, High temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical Flight Systems, Advanced Propulsion Systems, Advanced materials and autonomous Orbital Flight, reentry and Landing. Background Department of Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office is leading the Defense Department's Orbital Test Vehicle Initiative, by direction of Under Secretary of Defense For acquisition, Technology and logistics and Secretary of Air Force. The Air Force OTV effort uses extensive Contractor and government investments in the X - 37 Program by the Air Force, NASA and Defense advance Research Projects Agency to continue full - scale development and on - Orbit testing of the long - duration, reusable Space Vehicle. Nasa's original X - 37 Program began in 1999 and was transferred to DARPA in 2004. Nasa envisions building two vehicles, Approach and Landing Test Vehicle, or ALTV, and the Orbital Vehicle. Darpa completed the ALTV portion of the X - 37 Program in 2006, executing a series of captive carry and free flight tests. Darpa successfully validated flight dynamics and extended flight envelope beyond low speed / low altitude tests previously conducted by NASA on X - 40A, sub - scale version of X - 37 developed by Air Force Research Labs. Nasa's X - 37 Orbital Vehicle was never build, but it's design was the starting point for the Air Force's X - 37B Orbital Test Vehicle Program. The Air Force has successfully flown five X - 37B Missions, OTV - 1 through OTV - 5. All five Missions Launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Beginning with Its first Launch on April 22, 2010. Otv - 1 through OTV - 3 all land at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., While OTV - 4 and OTV - 5 land at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Through five complete Missions, X - 37B has spent a total of 2 865 Days on Orbit, successfully checking out X - 37B's reusable Flight, reentry and Landing Technologies as well as operating experiments to benefit the National Space community. The current Mission, OTV - 6, was Launch on May 17 2020 from Cape Canaveral on Atlas V.

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Development

On 17 November 2006, US Air Force announced that it would develop its own variant of NASA's X - 37A. The Air Force version was designated X - 37B Orbital Test Vehicle. The OTV program was built on earlier industry and government efforts by DARPA, NASA, and Air Force under leadership of the US Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office in partnership with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Boeing was prime contractor for the OTV program. X - 37B was designed to remain in orbit for up to 270 days at time. The Secretary of the Air Force State that the OTV program would focus on risk reduction, experimentation, and operational concept development for reusable Space Vehicle technologies, in support of long - term developmental space objectives. X - 37B was originally scheduled for launch in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle, but following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, it was transferred to Delta II 7920. X - 37B was subsequently transferred to shroud configuration on the Atlas V rocket, following concerns over the unshrouded spacecraft's aerodynamic properties during launch. Following their missions, X - 37B spacecraft primarily land on the runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, with Edwards Air Force Base as secondary site. In 2010, manufacturing work began on the second X - 37B, OTV - 2, which conducted its maiden launch in March 2011. On 8 October 2014, NASA confirmed that X - 37B vehicles would be housed at Kennedy Space Center in Orbiter Processing Facilities 1 and 2, hangars previously occupied by Space Shuttle. Boeing had said space planes would use OPF - 1 in January 2014, and the Air Force had previously said it was considering consolidating X - 37B operations, housed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, nearer to their launch site at Cape Canaveral. Nasa also State that the program had completed tests to determine whether X - 37B, one - fourth the size of the Space Shuttle, could land on former Shuttle runways. Nasa furthermore State that renovations of two hangars would be complete by the end of 2014; main doors of OPF - 1 were marked with message home of X - 37B by this point. Most of the activities of the X - 37B project are secret. The official US Air Force statement is that the project is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, uncrewed Space Test platform for the US Air Force. The primary objectives of X - 37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technology and operating experiments which can be returned to Earth. Air Force State that this includes testing avionics, flight systems, guidance and navigation, Thermal protection, insulation, propulsion, and re - entry systems.

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Design

The X - 37 Orbital Test Vehicle is a reusable robotic spaceplane. It is an approximately 120 - scale derivative of Boeing X - 40, measuring over 29 feet in length, and features two angled tail fins. X - 37 launches atop Atlas V 501 or SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The spaceplane is designed to operate in a speed range of up to Mach 25 on its reentry. Technologies demonstrated in X - 37 include improved thermal protection system, enhanced avionics, autonomous guidance system and advanced airframe. The spaceplane's thermal protection system is built upon previous generations of atmospheric reentry spacecraft, incorporating silica ceramic tiles. The X - 37's avionics suite was used by Boeing to develop its CST - 100 crew spacecraft. Development of X - 37 was to aid in design and development of NASA's Orbital Space Plane, designed to provide crew rescue and crew transport capability to and from the International Space Station, according to NASA fact sheet. X - 37 for NASA was to be powered by one Aerojet AR2 - 3 engine using storable propellants, providing thrust of 6 600 pounds - force. The Human - rat AR2 - 3 engine has been used on dual - power NF - 104A astronaut training Vehicle and was given new flight certification for use on X - 37 with hydrogen peroxide / JP - 8 propellants. This was reportedly changed to a hypergolic nitrogen - tetroxide / hydrazine propulsion system. The X - 37 lands automatically upon returning from orbit and is the second reusable spacecraft to have such capability, after the Soviet Buran Shuttle. X - 37 is the smallest and lightest Orbital spaceplane flying to date; it has a launch mass of around 11 000 pounds and is approximately one quarter of the size of the Space Shuttle orbiter. On 13 April 2015, Space Foundation Award X - 37 team with the 2015 Space Achievement Award for significantly advancing the state of art for reusable spacecraft and on - orbit operations, with design, development, Test and Orbital operation of the X - 37B Space flight Vehicle over three missions totaling 1 367 days in Space.

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Variants

The Boeing X - 37, also know as X - 37 Orbital Test Vehicle, is an American reusable unmanned spacecraft. It is boosted into space by rocket, then re - enters Earth's atmosphere and lands as a spaceplane. X - 37 is operated by the United States Air Force for Orbital spaceflight missions intended to demonstrate reusable space technologies. It is a 120 - scaled derivative of the earlier Boeing X - 40. X - 37 began as a NASA project in 1999, before being transferred to the US Department of Defense in 2004. It conducted its first flight as drop test on 7 April 2006, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The spaceplane's first Orbital mission, USA - 212, was Launch on 22 April 2010 using Atlas V rocket. Its successful return to Earth on 3 December 2010 was the first test of the vehicle's heat shield and Hypersonic aerodynamic handling. The second X - 37 was Launch on 5 March 2011, with mission designation USA - 226; it Return to Earth on 16 June 2012. The third X - 37 mission, USA - 240, Launch successfully on 11 December 2012.

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Orbital Experience

Two different X - 37B vehicles have flown total of five missions, which are known as OTV - 1, OTV - 2, OTV - 3 and OTV - 4. Four flights have reached space with the help of United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket. Fifth Launch in September 2017 on SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Otv - 1 broke off in April 2010 and stayed aloft for 224 days. Otv - 2 stayed in Space for more than twice as long, launching in March 2011 and returning to Earth 468 days later, in June 2012. Otv - 3, which uses the same vehicle that fly OTV - 1 mission, begins on Dec. 11 2012, and ends 674 days later, in October 2014. The Otv - 4 mission marks the second flight for X - 37B that flew OTV - 2. Otv - 4 began on May 20 2015, and broke OTV - 3's duration record on March 25 2017. After 718 days in Space, OTV - 4 mission ended with a smooth runway landing on May 7 2017. It was the first X - 37B landing at NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Three previous missions landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Otv - 5 mission Launch on Sept. 7 2017 on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Mission lasts 780 days carrying Air Force Research Laboratory advance Structurally embed Thermal Spreader, experiment designed to test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in long - duration Space environment, according to an Air Force statement. It also carries several other experiments and small satellites, Air Force officials say. Otv - 5 landed on Oct. 27 2019 at NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility, marking the second time X - 27B has done so. X - 37 is a technology testbed, and as such, pushing envelope is a mission, Joan Johnson - Freese, professor of national security affairs at Naval War College in Newport, RI, tell Space. Com, referring to OTV - 3. Endurance is one of several X - 37 profile parameters that are being test, along with others, such as in - flight capabilities and turnaround time for use. All X - 37B missions to date have Launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida. While the first three touch down at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, future missions beyond OTV - 4 May continue to land at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, right next door to Cape Canaveral, officials have say. Boeing is using the old NASA Space Shuttle hangar at KSC to service X - 37B Space planes for the US Air Force.

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Space weapon?

The current version of X - 37 may not be the last to reach space. In 2011, Boeing representatives announced that they were considering developing a larger variant called X - 37C, which could carry up to six astronauts to and from the International Space Station. In addition, engineering team led by former NASA astronaut Stephen Robinson has proposed using a modified version of X - 37B as an ISS emergency - evacuation Vehicle. But this is just a concept at the moment, and there's no indication that Boeing is investigating this astronaut ambulance variant.

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Space-y Beginnings

The story of X - 37B starts in the 1990s, when NASA was studying cheaper alternatives to Space Shuttle orbiter.S shuttle, designed to fly frequently and with recoverable, reusable Booster Engines, was supposed to dramatically lower the cost of transporting people and hardware to low - Earth orbit. Unfortunately, space shuttle ends up being a far more maintenance - intensive shuttle than original envisioned and fails to lower payload - to - orbit costs. Worse, shuttle takes months to refurbish between flights, making it nowhere near as responsive platform as originally plan. One option to boost spaceplane readiness and lower costs was to dispense with human crews entirely, which means getting rid of their crew living spaces and life support systems. An unmanned spaceplane can be far smaller than man one, requiring less thrust and smaller rocket to put it into space. Without a human crew, unmanned spaceplane could spend weeks, months, or even years in low Earth orbitas long as the mission requiresbefore returning to Earth. Nasa began development of the small, unmanned spaceplane concept in the mid - 1990s, while simultaneously, US Air Force was planning a similar craft, Space Maneuver Vehicle, and Boeing built a single X - 40A Test aircraft for the Air Force. An 85 percent scaled version of notional spaceplane, X - 40A flew one Mission For Air Force before being loaned to NASA for its Program concept. The unmanned, unpowered X - 40A was built to test autonomous guidance and navigation systems. The spaceplane was carried aloft by US Army CH - 47D Chinook helicopter to an altitude of 15 000 feet and released to glide to landing at the nearby Landing strip. Nasa carried out seven X - 40A Flight Tests before the Test Program ended Following X - 40A, NASA plans to build two vehicles: Approach and Landing Test Vehicle, or ALTV, and Orbital Vehicle. Unfortunately, in 2004, civilian Space Agency decided unmanned spaceplane do not directly support NASA's goals for exploration. Rather than shelve the program, control shifted to the Pentagon's Defense advance Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. Darpa built ALTV, which it called X - 37. The X - 37 was a full scale craft designed not to go into Space but to further test unman, autonomous landing hardware and software. X - 37 was carried by Scaled Composites White Knight Launch aircraft with five captive flights and three free fall flights record. The next step was to build a full - scale, fully capable vehicle. Unlike previous craft, new vehicle would include heat - resistant tiles and propulsion system. The Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office awarded Boeing contract to build a new craft, designated X - 37B, which would finally fulfill the Full Mission profile of unmanned spaceplane. Place on top of the rocket, Air Force would shoot it into Space, where it would stay for weeks and even months at time. Once the mission was complete, X - 37B would de - orbit and glide to landing at Air Force runway.

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Ready for Launch

Darting through low clouds, US Air Force's reusable X - 37B spaceplane rode unite Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket into orbit Sunday, debuting upgrades to accommodate additional scientific experiments, dishwasher - size tech demo satellite, and classify military objectives. Riding 860 000 pounds of thrust from its - 180 main engine, 197 - foot - tall Atlas 5 rocket lumber off Cape Canaveral's Complex 41 Launch pad at 9: 14 am EDT Sunday. A Kerosene - fuel booster engine powers the rocket through low cloud layer, and Atlas 5 disappears from view of spectators within seconds. Powerful rumble left in Atlas 5's wake moved across the Florida spaceport, lingering after the rocket's ascent was obscured by clouds. Flying without any strap - on solid rocket boosters, Atlas 5 arc toward northeast and shed its bulbous payload fairing around X - 37B spaceplane nearly four minutes into the mission, once the rocket climbed into the rarefied vacuum of space. The Russian - made first stage engine shut down next, and the hydrogen - fuel Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engine ignite to continue accelerating the X - 37B spaceship into orbit. At the request of the US Air Force, United Launch Alliance's live broadcast ended coverage of the mission's progress around five minutes after liftoff. Centaur upper stage was expected to deliver X - 37B, also know as Orbital Test Vehicle, into orbit in less than 20 minutes, then release the spacecraft. Centaur was program to re - enter the atmosphere and burn up over the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia around an hour into the mission, according to airspace warning notices released to the public. Re - entry was intended to ensure launch does not leave any unnecessary space junk in orbit. Trajectory information gleaned from airspace warnings suggests Atlas 5 rocket target placement of X - 37B spacecraft in orbit more than 200 miles in altitude, with an inclination of around 44 degrees to the equator, according to Marco Langbroek, archaeologist in the Netherlands who also tracks satellites. Ula declared the launch success in a press release later Sunday morning, punctuating 84 flights of the Atlas 5 rocket since its debut in 2002, and the third Atlas 5 flight of 2020. The US military and ULA dedicate Launch to coronavirus first responders, front - line workers, and victims of disease. Launch part of the military's America Strong campaign, joining a series of flyovers of cities nationwide by Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels to salute health care professionals and coronavirus patients and victims. Shroud in secrecy, X - 37B spaceplane is a reusable vehicle designed to deploy small satellites, host experiments, and pursue other classified objectives. Flying without any astronauts on - board, vehicle generates electricity with solar array and can autonomously guide itself to runway landing at the end of each mission. The Air Force has disclosed it has two X - 37B vehicles in its inventory, and both were built by Boeing. Officials have not confirmed which X - 37B Vehicle was Launch Sunday.

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Mission...Accomplished?

The US Air Force's unpiloted X - 37B Space plane landed back on Earth Sunday after recording 780 days in orbit, racking up the fifth ultra - long mission for the military's mini - Shuttle fleet. X - 37B's Orbital Test Vehicle 5 Mission ended with smooth autonomous touchdown at the Shuttle Landing Facility of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3: 51 AM EDT, Air Force officials say. The Mission originally Launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Sept. 7 2017. With successful landing, OTV - 5 broke the previous X - 37B Mission record of 718 days set by OTV - 4 Mission in May 2017. Otv - 5 is the second X - 37B Mission to land at NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility, with previous missions landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The safe return of this spacecraft, after breaking its own endurance record, is the result of an innovative partnership between the government and industry, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in a statement. Sky is no longer limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, US Space Force. The US Air Force has at least two reusable X - 37B spacecraft in its fleet, and both have flown multiple flights. Solar - powered space planes were built by Boeing and feature miniature payload bays to host experiments or smaller satellites. They were originally designed to spend up to 240 days in orbit. X - 37B continues to demonstrate the importance of reusable spaceplane, said Secretary of Air Force Barbara Barrett said in the same statement. Each successive Mission advances our nation's Space Capabilities. Air Force officials have said that the exact nature of X - 37B missions is classify, though they have dropped hints about the types of experiments OTV - 5 performs in orbit. One payload was Air Force Research Laboratory advance Structurally embed Thermal Spreader, Experiment designed to test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in long - duration Space environment, according to an Air Force statement. Otv - 5 also flew to higher - inclination orbit than previous X - 37B flights, suggesting it had new experiments or technology tests in store. In a statement today, Air Force officials confirmed OTV - 5 carries multiple experiments and carries smaller satellites into orbit. With successful landing today, X - 37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives, Randy Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director, said in a statement. This Mission successfully hosts Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing ride for small satellites. The X - 37B Space plane was originally developed by NASA in 1999 to serve as a technology test bed for future spacecraft and looks much like a miniature version of the Space Shuttle. In 2004, military's Defense advance Research Agency took over the project, ultimately turning it over to the US Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office a few years later. X - 37B vehicles are 29 feet long, 9. 5 feet tall and has a wingspan of just under 15 feet.

* Please keep in mind that all text is machine-generated, we do not bear any responsibility, and you should always get advice from professionals before taking any actions.

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Sources

* Please keep in mind that all text is machine-generated, we do not bear any responsibility, and you should always get advice from professionals before taking any actions.

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