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Secret Space Plane caught on video
June 16, 2012 6:46 PM   Subscribe

The U.S. Air Force's robotic X-37B space plane came back to Earth today (June 16) after 15 months in orbit on a mystery mission.

The landing at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base was caught on video.

The Air Force has not release many details of the mission other than to say it was conducting "on-orbit experiments".

China has raised concerned that the plane is being used to spy on it's spacelab Tiangong-1 which the U.S. denies. (prev)
posted by Bonzai (38 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Ride with him girth to girth
Wherever the Pale Horse wheels
Wait on his councils, ear to earth,
And say what the dust reveals.
For the smoke of our torment rolls
Where the burning thousands lie;
What do we care for men's bodies or souls?
Bring us deliverance, spy!"
posted by Mblue at 7:03 PM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Secret missions aside. I'm still a little giddy to see anything that america has built in the last 10 years or so doing awesome stuff in fucking space.

You have to wonder what other marvels we'd thought long abandoned are actually just hidden away under many many layers of secrecy.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:12 PM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wiki: As part of its mission goals, the X-37 was designed to rendezvous with friendly satellites to refuel them, or to replace failed solar arrays using a robotic arm.

I like to imagine it has a little white glove, like all robot arms should.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:14 PM on June 16, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm still a little giddy to see anything that america has built in the last 10 years or so doing awesome stuff in fucking space.

New Horizons was launched in 2006 and will reach Pluto and Charon in mid-2015. The pictures should be sensational.
posted by crapmatic at 7:20 PM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wiki: As part of its mission goals, the X-37 was designed to rendezvous with friendly satellites to refuel them, or to replace failed solar arrays using a robotic arm.

I like to imagine it has a little white glove, like all robot arms should.


And it has a little tip jar taped to the side.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:27 PM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Chekhovian: "You have to wonder what other marvels we'd thought long abandoned are actually just hidden away under many many layers of secrecy."

Like the secret space shuttle from The West Wing?
posted by Bonzai at 7:53 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe in 20 years they'll give it to NASA, like their old super-Hubble telescopes
posted by percor at 7:57 PM on June 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


Secret missions aside. I'm still a little giddy to see anything that america has built in the last 10 years or so doing awesome stuff in fucking space.

You have to wonder what other marvels we'd thought long abandoned are actually just hidden away under many many layers of secrecy.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:12 PM on June 16 [+] [!]


the DoD recently gave NASA not one but two unflown better-than-Hubble secret satellites that were just hanging around not being used. It will take until 2020 (it is estimated) for NASA to get the resources to operate the satellites though.
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/06/hey-brother-can-you-spare-a-hubble-dod-sure-have-two/258061/
posted by Bwithh at 7:59 PM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love this stuff usually, but it does make me a little sad to see that the militarization of space continues apace, the fact that we have no money for a civilian program "due to the economy" notwithstanding. If those are the use cases for friendly satellites, the implications for unfriendly satellites are pretty grim, and I'm sure the other space powers see this and are thinking about countermeasures, and here we go.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:01 PM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


If those are the use cases for friendly satellites, the implications for unfriendly satellites are pretty grim, and I'm sure the other space powers see this and are thinking about countermeasures, and here we go.

Supposedly that's been going on throughout the entire history of the space shuttle program. Something like half of the flights were secret mission military things full of air force crews apparently. The design of goal of fucking with Russian satellites was baked in from the very beginning.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:05 PM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Definitely. I bet there will be some interesting stories about the shuttle program if anyone is actually able to write about it. This seems like raising the stakes significantly though, because without a crew and costing a fraction of the price, you can take serious risks you'd never contemplate with a crewed shuttle, send them on one way missions, etc.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:09 PM on June 16, 2012


I checked around and found some launch video.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:11 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actual archive combat footage of that super secret US military space shuttle (deployed with space marine platoons) that Toby Ziegler leaked to the press about in The West Wing, leading to his firing by President Bartlet.
posted by Bwithh at 8:12 PM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm still unsure of how I should feel about the new space telescopes. These are hand-me-downs, trash, and they are still more advanced than our noblest cultural endeavor as Americans. I am embarrassed and ashamed and I feel powerless in the face of an immense, faceless void that always puts secrecy above freedom, like being a citizen is a membership in a degreed secret society, and I'll never be advanced enough to know what's really going on.

I don't know whether I should be thrilled that our spacecraft came back as designed, or appalled that I'll never know what it was doing, even if it could neither help nor harm our enemies to know as well...
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:42 PM on June 16, 2012 [17 favorites]


You could try and take solace, as I do, in the fact that the pseudo-Hubble thing has seriously freaked the conspiracy theorist scene. It's... proof!
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:49 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kind of. If you squint.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:49 PM on June 16, 2012


the DoD recently gave NASA not one but two unflown better-than-Hubble secret satellites that were just hanging around not being used. It will take until 2020 (it is estimated) for NASA to get the resources to operate the satellites though.

NO, I'M NOT BITTER THAT IF IT'S ABOUT WAR WE'VE GOT SURPLUS SPACE STUFF BUT NASA HAS TO GO BEGGING.
posted by JHarris at 8:50 PM on June 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


You'd have to wonder why the Chinese would even care if anyone was watching their spacelab...unless they are actually up to something worth spying on.
posted by eye of newt at 9:02 PM on June 16, 2012


At least private enterprise is stepping up. SpaceX just sent that payload to the IST and civilian tourism flights are right around the corner.

Plus that big venture with James Cameron, Larry Page and Ross Perot where they are going to go get an asteroid.

It'll be something to read about in the old age home.
posted by Bonzai at 9:06 PM on June 16, 2012


Yeah, space is all capitalism and militarism, just like the rest of the world. At least we have all sorts of crazy new drugs to keep us entertained. This really is PKD's future; too bad about that.
posted by mek at 10:03 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am SO hoping they tagged the Tiangong-1 with some space graffiti or something similar.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:05 PM on June 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yes if that robot arm with the white glove goes around drawing evil moustaches on spy satellites, I am okay with that.
posted by mek at 10:10 PM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


tagged the Tiangong-1 with some space graffiti

You joke, but if you just spray painted over the solar panels on an average satellite, that's pretty much the same as destorying it.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:35 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Something like half of the flights were secret mission military things full of air force crews apparently.

Half is a gross exaggeration. Out of 135 space shuttle missions, ten were D.o.D. missions and only eight of those were classified and they are believed to be satellite deployments. However, I agree that the shuttle would have been capable of chasing down an enemy satellite and disabling it. There's just not any evidence that such shenanigans have gone down.
posted by chrchr at 11:27 PM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like to imagine it has a little white glove, like all robot arms should.

Yes, and a dustpan and brush
posted by the noob at 11:54 PM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The first ever Russian space station actually had a friggin machine gun mounted on the bottom. It was locked in place so in order to use it you had to move the entire station around.

The space station component that was going to be Mir-2 actually had a high powered laser on attached to it, but the rocket carrying it into space blew up. The replacement was scaled down and ended up being the core module on the ISS.
posted by delmoi at 12:50 AM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


delmoi - it was the second, not the first.
posted by grajohnt at 4:41 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Welcome Home, Space Plane!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:36 AM on June 17, 2012


Maybe in 20 years they'll give it to NASA, like their old super-Hubble telescopes

They got it from NASA.
posted by Max Power at 6:45 AM on June 17, 2012


However, I agree that the shuttle would have been capable of chasing down an enemy satellite and disabling it.

Disabling could have been done using a marble or two. I imagine the shuttle was designed to be able to capture satellites.
posted by srboisvert at 8:21 AM on June 17, 2012


Secret Space Plane Shatters Orbital Record as Chinese Rival Looms
posted by homunculus at 9:41 AM on June 17, 2012


You'd have to wonder why the Chinese would even care if anyone was watching their spacelab...unless they are actually up to something worth spying on.

The old "if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about" trope applied to space? Impressive.
posted by inigo2 at 11:22 AM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Military Space Plane: Providing Transformational and Responsive Global Precision Striking Power: A White Paper on the Operational Utility of a Military Spaceplane in the Emerging 21st Century International Security Environment (draft) [PDF], Proposed by members of ONE TEAM in Conjunction With the 120 Day Reusable Launch Vehicle Study, January 2002:
“Once a target is identified, the spaceplane can respond from the U.S. and strike worldwide targets in under an hour. The munitions employed are generally the same as those used on conventional aircraft, only they are released from a small, low cost, precision guided missile called a Common Aero Vehicle (CAV)[*]. The CAV enables interchangeable use of virtually the entire arsenal of next generation air munitions currently in development at the Air Force’s Air Armaments Center. It protects the munitions during hypersonic reentry and dispenses them with the same accuracy and effect as if being dropped from aircraft. These munitions are designed to selectively strike surface targets, mobile vehicles, deeply buried bunkers, aircraft in flight, and potentially even bio-terrorism targets requiring Agent Defeat munitions designed to destroy biological weapons.”
Related links are here, although many are inactive.

*On the left side of this US Air Force Space Command diagram from 2002, we see a Reusable Launch Vehicle deploying a CAV that in turn dispenses a cruise missile (enlarged diagram here). More details about Space Command's proposed visions of America's future global role can be seen in Chapter 2: AFSC Vision of the Air Force Space Command, Strategic Master Plan for FY02 and Beyond, 9 February 2000 (additional chapter links here).

Plans change, though. The Chinese probably have their own ideas about the future.
posted by cenoxo at 11:27 AM on June 17, 2012


Yeah, space is all capitalism and militarism, just like the rest of the world. At least we have all sorts of crazy new drugs to keep us entertained. This really is PKD's future; too bad about that.

Don't be sad, brother. A new life awaits you on the off-world colonies!
posted by heathkit at 4:19 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I imagine capturing spacecraft Moonraker-style would be a dicey proposition. Satellites have thrusters and volatile fuel that could really ruin the interior of your nice white shuttle. Even a disabled satellite would be dangerous to handle.
posted by AndrewStephens at 7:00 PM on June 17, 2012


capturing a spacecraft Moonraker-style

Presumably you mean "You only live Twice-style", whose screenplay was written by Roald Fucking Dahl of all people.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:36 PM on June 17, 2012


Indeed, I was thinking of You Only Live Twice, but something similar happens in Moonraker as well.
posted by AndrewStephens at 8:47 PM on June 17, 2012


Expanding on The Military Space Plane concept linked above, the USAF X37B may be one of a series of experimental reusable space vehicles whose eventual goal (by 2025 or earlier) is to launch and deliver conventional weapons and/or a squad of Marines/Special Ops forces to any location on the planet within two hours.

For a more recent outline of these proposed SUSTAIN (Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion) capabilities, see Wild Ride: Launching Troops Through Space For Rapid Precision Global Intervention [PDF], an April 2007 paper published by the Center for Strategy and Technology of the USAF Air War College.
posted by cenoxo at 8:55 PM on June 17, 2012


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