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Space Shuttle 2.0
April 3, 2010 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Certainly you've read of the Space Shuttle's imminent retirement, but are you prepared for the secret robot "mini" shuttle, the X-37B? After a decade of checkered development under NASA, DARPA (with assistance from Scaled Composites' White Knight) and finally the U.S. Air Force, the first X-37B spaceplane, the Orbital Test Vehicle, is ready for an April 19th launch.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot (40 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Toby's going to prison?
posted by orthogonality at 11:15 AM on April 3, 2010 [12 favorites]


Huh, that's pretty cool. A lot of things we send astronauts up to do these days can probably be done by robots. Space Robots.

Toby's going to prison?

What?
posted by delmoi at 11:27 AM on April 3, 2010


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toby_Ziegler#Military_shuttle_leak_storyline
posted by neuron at 11:37 AM on April 3, 2010


What?

West Wing reference, I presume.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:38 AM on April 3, 2010


Wow, I had never heard of this project! I'm glad to be hearing about it, too, because I think robotic/remote controlled space flight should be the short- and near-term goals. Putting a man on Mars would be as crazy as it is cool, but littering that planet's surface with robots should be the 5-, 10- and 20-year plans.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:42 AM on April 3, 2010


Where do the laser beams fire from?
posted by Edward L at 11:47 AM on April 3, 2010


And until reading that article, I never knew the Soviets had their own shuttle too, that actually made it off the drawing board and into space: Buran
posted by memebake at 11:56 AM on April 3, 2010


"Gary Payton, the undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs"
Wondered what Gary, the sassy NBA guard was doing since retirement. :-)
posted by Cranberry at 12:00 PM on April 3, 2010


It's interesting that this is an Air Force project, and not NASA. I don't know why that surprises me, but it does. I guess NASA will be developing their own, based on how well this does?
posted by hippybear at 12:08 PM on April 3, 2010


So, we probably won't see it land because it would be classified?
posted by various at 12:20 PM on April 3, 2010


memebake: posts tagged with buran

Cool Papa Bell: MSL, MAVEN and Beyond 2013 are the next steps for Mars from NASA. Additionally this decade will see orbiters and landers scheduled from Russia, China, Canada, Finland, and India -- a veritable feast.

The cool one that's on topic here is the ARES proposal (which is not the Ares boosters for Constellation).

Anyway, I'm still mourning the post-Columbia cancellation of the X-38, slightly related to this project. Although it wouldn't change the launch capability crisis for the US, and the Soyuz works perfectly well as a lifeboat, it would have pointed the way toward lifting body spaceplane designs. As it is now, with Orion/Constellation on the ropes, we'll be lucky if we get anything other than hitch-hiking now. :(
posted by dhartung at 12:21 PM on April 3, 2010


hippybear: Not sure where you've been but USAF has always been the home for military aerospace capability. Shuttle itself was a marriage of competing NASA and USAF spaceplane proposals, and derived technology from the Air Force's X-20 Dyna Soar lifting body ca. 1960. ISS goes back to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory proposal. There is a lot of similar technology transfer that goes back and forth, but it's tricky because much of the USAF work is classified. For instance, Hubble is in principle not that different from the Keyhole spy satellites, and getting it launched required a sort of "tech laundering" to disguise the cloak-and-dagger origins and protect the existing capability.
posted by dhartung at 12:31 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


USAF has always been the home for military aerospace capability.

Where I've been... is probably still living in the rose-tinted world where non-militarization of space is part of the US canon. I know it went out the window starting in the Reagan era. But I don't know if it's fair to classify this project as a "replacement" for a NASA program when it is, foremost, a military venture.

My hippie heart is again betrayed by reality. Go figure.
posted by hippybear at 12:36 PM on April 3, 2010


BP: West Wing reference, I presume.

A lot of people got through the W. years living in that fantast administration seems like. I only recently began watching it on DVD, but I wish I'd watched it sooner.

That little RC space shuttle is fuckin' awesome looking. How soon before anyone can have a RC spaceship? You could visit the moon and different planets from the comfort of your own living room. HEck, you could even have RC space wars and it would be like a video game, but somewhere in space hella crazy explosions would be happening.

(Did, I really just use the word, hella? Weird.)
posted by Skygazer at 12:54 PM on April 3, 2010


Lookit how mature I'm being by not posting the obvious jokey comment.

Also: Robot Spaceplanes? I'll willing to be with you on this 21st Century, just don't break my heart again.
posted by The Whelk at 1:05 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I want one a fleet of them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:28 PM on April 3, 2010


My hippie heart is again betrayed by reality. Go figure.

Space has been more-or-less "militarized" from the very beginning.

For starters, modern manned and unmanned rocketry has it's roots firmly planted in Nazi Germany's V2 program. The original US manned rockets borrow technology heavily from this program - and Werner von Braun, who was an SS and Nazi party member. The original Redstone rockets are ballistic missiles, not spacecraft. Same goes for the Atlas. The only exception for this with regards to the Mercury program was the Little Joe boosters.

The Space Shuttle (SST) was also highly militarized. Many of its capabilities were due to demands from the USAF. The glide range, for example, as well as payload capacities, on orbit times and more. The demanded specifications from the USAF contributed to the overall cost, size and complexity of the SST.

When Sputnik launched it wasn't a happy, rose-colored moment for the world. It was a display of military-industrial might by the USSR. The very idea that they could perform overflights at heights the USA couldn't reach was alarming to millions of people. It meant a lot of things above and beyond the ability to loft ICBMs around the world.

The response of the USA was equally militarized, all the way through the Apollo program, more or less the worlds most expensive wang-measuring competition. "We can build bigger and more reliable rockets than you." I wouldn't be the first person to dryly observe the plainly visible phallocentric psychology of launching a giant flaming penis at the moon, with the moon a ready symbol of "feminine mysticism" in many cultures throughout history and geography. First man on the virgin moon, indeed.

Satellites have been used for electronic warfare. The USAFs Manned Orbital Laboratory predates Skylab and was flown under pretenses of "research" but that research was purely "espionage" in the form of high resolution photography. They basically had a version of the Hubble scope pointed at the ground with a honking-big photographic camera hooked up to it.

The USSRs version of the MOL - called Almaz - had what is largely believed to be the first space-to-space gun installed on it. Though it was never fired it was meant to be used for defense and possibly offense in the form of satellite or spacecraft killing.

A majority of SST missions in the last 20-30 years have been militarized. The Shuttle regularly placed and retrieves military surveillance and communications satellites. This work is being mostly replaced by USAF rocket launches, many using the Delta rocket family.

They've exploded nuclear devices in space. More than a couple of them. I'm not sure how many, but if I recall correctly it was called the Starfish program. A dozen or two?

The vast majority of Astronauts and Cosmonauts - aside from just a couple of space tourists - have been military officers. The same is now true for China. Not just for the training. Not just for the discipline. But because space has always been strategically important. Some of them are also scientists but by and large they are pilots and military officers. They do things they're not allowed to talk about, and won't be allowed to talk about for some time.

Space has always been militarized.

However, this doesn't discount from astronaut statements like "we came in peace for all mankind" - because they did. Apparently seeing how small, fragile, remote and lonely our little planet is from space changes your perspective a bit. I'd send every member of Congress and the Senate and every world leader up if I could, because it would help change things for the better, and fast.
posted by loquacious at 2:04 PM on April 3, 2010 [19 favorites]


loquacious: Shhhhh! you're harshing my buzz!
posted by hippybear at 2:20 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Factual corrections to loquacious' post:

The USAF MOL never flew a manned mission. It was canceled in 1969 after a single brief test flight of a mock-up.

The Алмаз (Almaz) gun was successfully fired again a satellite target.

The United States executed six high altitude nuclear tests in 1958 as parts of projects ardtack and and Argus. Starfish Prime was one of the five successful high altitude nuclear tests of Operation Fishbowl in 1962.
posted by Captain Ligntning at 2:26 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It should probably be mentioned that Von braun's interest in rocketry was always about space travel, and he only worked on military programs because that was where the money was. I think the same can be said for lots of rocket scientists.
posted by empath at 2:29 PM on April 3, 2010


Don't say that he's hypocritical,
Say rather that he's apolitical.
Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.
posted by Captain Ligntning at 2:33 PM on April 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


http://www.spaceflightnow.com/shuttle/sts119/090327sts27/

http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/launch/sts_ta.htm

http://www.flame.org/~cdoswell/ServiceAss/Challenger&Feynman.pdf
NYT, Glieck, December 14, 1993
NASA's Russian Roulette

[Seven years after Challenger, a new hazard discovered]
"... , the shuttle's solid-fuel booster rockets have been creating erratic, uneven power thrusts that could tear the shuttle apart. Engineers calculated that a worst-case thrust would exceed the allowable safety margin.

NASA's solution: to change its safety margin...."

And they still fly.
And so would I.
posted by hank at 2:38 PM on April 3, 2010


The USAF MOL never flew a manned mission. It was canceled in 1969 after a single brief test flight of a mock-up.

Huh. I thought I recently read something somewhere - tied into the rediscovery of the USAF non-Gemini pressure suits - that they actually did end up flying a manned mission or missions. I'm not entirely sure I believe the official story that they didn't.

But this could also easily be something I dreamed after passing out watching too many space documentaries and Saturn V launches.

I also didn't know that the Soviets actually fired that gun. I wonder what the recoil reaction was like? It probably moved their station pretty good.
posted by loquacious at 2:44 PM on April 3, 2010


Derpa-derp-derp I just actually read dhartung's comment that hippybear was replying to which said basically the same things with less paragraphs and bloviating prose.
posted by loquacious at 2:54 PM on April 3, 2010


Can you link to some of these space documentaries and Saturn V launches videos? Reading about the Soviet probes to Venus was awesome and I's like to see more space non-porn-porn.
posted by dirty lies at 4:17 PM on April 3, 2010


delmoi: "Huh, that's pretty cool. A lot of things we send astronauts up to do these days can probably be done by robots. Space Robots."

As long as they aren't Cylons.
posted by bwg at 4:54 PM on April 3, 2010


I'm not entirely sure I believe the official story that they didn't.

It would be really hard to hide a launch of a Titan III with an MOL on top.
posted by Mcable at 5:35 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Again I say, I don't give a fuck who goes into space as long as someone does. We need to get off this fucking rock. Robots are all well and good and I loves me some space robots, but really... Seriously, I would kill someone for the chance to go to the moon. Mars? Titan?

Triton?

Alpha Centauri?

*sigh*
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:53 PM on April 3, 2010


LBJ in The Right Stuff:
And as I was sayin', whoever controls the high ground of space controls the world. The Roman empire controlled the world because it could build roads. Later, the British empire was dominant because they had ships. In the air stage, we were powerful because we had the airplane. And now the Communists have established a foothold in outer space. Pretty soon they'll have damned space platforms so they can drop nuclear bombs on us, like rocks from a highway overpass. Now how in the hell did they ever get ahead of us?
LBJ for reals: "I do not believe that this generation of Americans is willing to resign itself to going to bed each night by the light of a Communist moon."
posted by kirkaracha at 7:04 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


loquacious, they fire that gun by remote control when no one was aboard - they were afraid the noise and vibration might be hazardous to the health of the crew. Almaz was a test, and in the end the Soviets made the same call as the Americans did: Teleoperated machinery can do the job as well as a in spacer can, and with less risk and for fewer rubles.
posted by Captain Ligntning at 7:11 PM on April 3, 2010


SSTO fail. After spending a quarter century in development and sending a gabajillion bucks down the spaceplane hole, this is all we get? Really? How... unimpressive. Small and feeble, actually.

NASA needs a top-to-bottom shakeup, soonest.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:02 PM on April 3, 2010


i read the Orbital Test Vehicle as The Orbital Testicle and for a second i tried to justify it making sense :D
posted by liza at 9:50 PM on April 3, 2010


I wouldn't be the first person to dryly observe the plainly visible phallocentric psychology of launching a giant flaming penis at the moon, with the moon a ready symbol of "feminine mysticism" in many cultures throughout history and geography.

I don't take much issue with most of your comment, but I find the "rocket as penis" trope to be not just extremely tired, but classically Freudian in the sense of "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

How else would you get something into orbit at minimal cost? Any similarity between rockets and penises are purely convergent evolution.
posted by chimaera at 11:17 PM on April 3, 2010


How about some of the project orion designs? Some of those look like a big boob.
posted by Iax at 12:35 AM on April 4, 2010



I'm not entirely sure I believe the official story that they didn't.

[paranoia-filter] Was Skylab a purely civilian exercise? Are we sure it didn't have a downward-looking camera or two?
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 5:49 AM on April 4, 2010


I wish I had stuck with it and become a rocket engineer. One of my classmates did and he has a very cool job with NASA. The rest of us all went off to pursue less interesting stuff.
posted by caddis at 6:11 AM on April 4, 2010


i read the Orbital Test Vehicle as The Orbital Testicle

I'm pretty sure it was the discovery of this condition which caused the band to quit recording.
posted by hippybear at 8:38 AM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


wouldn't be the first person to dryly observe the plainly visible phallocentric psychology of launching a giant flaming penis at the moon, with the moon a ready symbol of "feminine mysticism" in many cultures throughout history and geography.

The man in the moon yells "Sexism!"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2010






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