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Mon, Mar 01, 2010

USAF X-37B Spaceplane Prepares For Inaugural Test Launch

Prototype Unmanned Vehicle Arrives At Cape Canaveral

The USAF X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle arrived in Florida this week to begin processing in anticipation of an April 19 launch aboard an Atlas V rocket.  The robotic spacecraft is a continuation of the X-37 program originally designed by NASA to test next-generation spaceflight technologies and transferred to DARPA in 2004.

Built by Boeing's Phantom Works division, the reusable X-37B is designed to test airframe, propulsions, and operational technologies. The robotic vehicle will conduct orbital and reentry operations and experiments at speeds around Mach 25.

ANN previously reported that an earlier vehicle, the X-37A, conducted drop tests from Scaled Composites' WhiteKnight carrier aircraft in 2006.  The vehicle was damaged during landing on one of those tests.

The 29 ft long, 15 ft wide X-37B is scheduled to land at at Vandenberg AFB in CA with Edwards AFB acting as the backup landing site.  No information has been given by the Air Force as to the payload, mission, or duration for this flight.

"The X-37B has the requirement to be on-orbit up to 270 days," an Air Force spokesperson told "Actual length for the first mission will depend on the meeting the mission objectives, which consists of checkout and performance characteristics of the spacecraft systems."

Speculation as to the military applications of the X-37 program increased when it was discovered that a USAF fact sheet noted that the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) is now listed as a project partner.  Theories range from fast-response communications and imaging to an orbital weapons platform.



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