23 April 2010

STAR WARS: Top-Secret X-37 Robotic Space Plane Launched

A top-secret military mini-shuttle -the first in history scheduled to attempt an automated re-entry- was launched under a shroud of secrecy from Cape Canaveral in the early morning hours. London's Daily Mail reports on the launch of this diminutive (15 ft wingspan) USAF vehicle:
Speaking after the launch, Air Force deputy under-secretary for space systems Gary Payton, admitted it was impossible to hid a space launch - but was cagey about the what exactly the X-37B would do.

'On this flight the main thing we want to emphasise is the vehicle itself, not really, what's going on in the on-orbit phase because the vehicle itself is the piece of news here,' he said.

He refuted claims that the craft was a step towards military dominance in space. 'I don't know how this could be called weaponisation of space,' he said. 'It's just an updated version of the space shuttle type of activities in space.

'We, the Air Force, have a suite of military missions in space and this new vehicle could potentially help us do those missions better.' The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle took a decade to develop and will spend up to nine months in orbit. It will re-enter Earth on autopilot and land like an ordinary plane at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

When exactly that will happen, however, even the Air Force can't predict. 'In all honesty, we don't know when it's coming back for sure,' Payton said. 'It depends on the progress we make with the on-orbit experiments and the on-orbit demonstrations.'