Secretive X-37B Space Plane Could Evolve to Carry Astronauts

Space X-37b Plane Air

This dimension chart reveals how the Boeing-created X-37B robot space plane compares to NASA's space shuttle, a larger edition of the spacecraft called the X-37C and an Atlas 5 rocket.

Prolonged Seaside, Calif. — The maker of the X-37B robotic space plane has outlined new plans for the spacecraft and a scaled-up model to assistance space station cargo deliveries or even carry astronauts into orbit.

The Boeing X-37B robotic space plane — also identified as the Orbital Examination Car or OTV — is becoming operated by the U.S. Air Force Fast Abilities Office, toting top-secret payloads into Earth orbit.

An X-37B OTV and derivatives plan was outlined the following by Arthur Grantz, chief engineer, Experimental Systems Group at Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems in Seal Beach, Calif. He spoke at Space 2011, a conference arranged by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center image displays on-orbit functions for the reusable X-37 space plane, now below the wing of the U.S. Air Force.

Last year, the X-37B finished its first exam mission of 244 days and shown the viability of a modest exam platform that can return experiments for post-flight inspection and evaluation, Grantz reported. "We validated all the autonomous direction, navigation and control, aerodynamics and aero-heating and the thermal safety system," he mentioned. [Photos: Air Force's 2nd Secret X-37B Mission]

Grantz stated the maiden voyage of the unpiloted X-37B proved highly profitable after its launch atop an Atlas 5 501 booster. Its landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California expected no floor intervention throughout the total orbital re-entry.

Turnaround of that first vehicle for its next flight has needed significantly less time and hours than anticipated supporting the concept of an reasonably priced, reusable system. In fact, the deployable and stowable solar array employed on that first flight is onboard the 3rd X-37B mission, he said.

"From a examination motor vehicle standpoint, the 244 days is the longest period on orbit for a reusable spacecraft," Grantz advised the audience.

The X-37B seems considerably like a miniature edition of NASA's space shuttle, but is much smaller sized. Two X-37Bs could match inside of the 60-foot (18-meter) cargo bay of a NASA shuttle.

In accordance to Air Force specs, the fundamental X-37B design is about 29 ft (8.8 meters) long and 15 ft (4.5 meters) wide. At kick off, it weighs about 11,000 lbs (4,990 kilograms).

A bigger version of the space plane design and style, dubbed X-37C in Boeing scientific tests, would also nevertheless fit within a space shuttle payload bay. Boeing is finding out possible unmanned and crewed versions of that bigger space plane for foreseeable future missions.

This collection of illustrations depicts the sequence of events for a potential X-37B space plane delivery flight to the International Space Station. The Boeing-developed X-37B is a robotic space plane at present flying classified missions for the U.S. Air Force.

Area plane's long term employs

In scoping out potential uses of the X-37B, Grantz said the craft could allow free a totally free-flying satellite loaded with experiments bound for low to medium Earth orbits, even to a geosynchronous Earth orbit ( via ).

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