Mysterious X-37B space plane returns to orbit, and for once, we’re told why

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U.S. Army X-37B space plane returns to space in mid-May, and although Air Force says little about the mysterious aircraft, the highest ranking civilian in the service described what he will do this time.

“The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office has combined forces with the Air Force Reserve Research Lab and now the US Space Force to execute a mission that maximizes the unique capabilities of the X-37B,” said the secretary to Air Force Barbara Barrett during a webcast hosted by Space. Foundation Wednesday.

“This important mission will host more experiments than any previous X-37B flight, including two NASA experiments,” added Barrett.

“One is a sample plate evaluating the reaction of important selected materials to spatial conditions. The second studies the effect of the radiation from the surrounding space on the seeds. A third experiment, designed by the Naval Research Laboratory, transforms solar energy into microwave radio frequency energy, then studies the transmission of this energy to Earth. “

The sample plate and seed experiments are for NASA, the Air Force said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the mission would deploy the FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the US Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, in order to conduct several orbit experiments.

The spacecraft, known as an orbital test vehicle, will take off from Cape Canaveral on May 16, Barrett said, adding that the Space Force was devoting this flight to “first responders and frontline professionals”.

While the Air Force owns the X-37B, Space Force, the newly created sixth branch of the military, is responsible for launching it, operating it in orbit and landing it.

Team X-37B illustrates the “lean, agile, forward-looking technological development” that the United States needs in space, said General Jay Raymond, Chief of Operations for the Space Force, in each press release, adding that each launch is an “important step”. “In” how we build, test and deploy space capabilities quickly and responsively. ”

“We know it drives them crazy”

The X-37B program began in 1999 and was launched for the first time in 2010. It completed five missions, spending 2,865 days in orbit, including a record 780 days on its last mission, which ended in October.

The Air Force said Wednesday that it would be the first X-37B mission to use a service module for experiments. Attached to the rear of the vehicle, the service module allows an additional experimental payload to be transported into orbit.

“The ability to test new systems in space and send them back to Earth is unique to the X-37B program and allows the United States to more effectively develop the space capabilities necessary to maintain space superiority,” said Air Force said in the statement Wednesday.

Artistic representation of the x37B Artistic representation of an X-37 space plane in flight. (Boeing)

Despite the X-37B’s prolific work in space, the Air Force doesn’t often elaborate on what the spacecraft is doing up there.

After returning from a mission in May 2017, Air Force said the X-37B was testing technologies that included “advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, reusable insulation compliant, light electromechanical flight advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing. “

The classified nature of its missions has given rise to suggestions that the X-37B is involved in the testing of military space technology related to reconnaissance satellites.

It has been spotted at relatively low altitudes – less than 200 miles, some say, lower than the International Space Station – which experts say could mean the U.S. plans to move spy satellites into lower orbits , where they could take sharper photos, but would need more fuel to maneuver.

Last year, Barrett’s predecessor Heather Wilson called the X-37B “fascinating” because “when it is close to Earth, it is close enough to the atmosphere to rotate where it is”.

This means that “the adversaries do not know … where it will happen next. And we know it drives them crazy. And I’m really happy with that, “said Wilson, according to Military.com.

Air Force officials also suggested that the X-37B may in the future share information with the service’s fifth-generation fighters, the F-22s and F-35s, giving them “the ability to operate in all fields “.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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