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Here's an email I received regarding this article below. (I asked and received permission to post it here.) --------------------------------------------------
Mr. Brown, I saw your article at Robots.net on the X-37 and I think you are grossly misinterpreting the situation. The X-37 began development in 1999 as a potential crew lifeboat for the International Space Station. However, Congress cut those funds and DARPA picked up the program as a classified initiative. Ever since the Challenger disaster, the Air Force has pursued a policy of independent access to space. Building the X-37 into a viable, operationally-responsive platform has long been seen as part of that policy.
This may be the first time you've heard about it, but I've known about the X-37 since I was an undergrad aerospace engineering student. One of my professors in grad school at Rice was John Muratore, program manager of the X-38 crew lifeboat project, and he spoke at length about the initial problems Boeing had with the X-37A. Its first glide test was four years ago next month and, because it went off the end of the runway like Muratore and his team predicted, was widely reported in aerospace media at the time.
FWIW, I'll note that NASA is also a partner on the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle because of the various advanced technologies for operational reusable vehicles that it demonstrates. NASA hopes to use some of those technologies to foster the development of a next generation of reusable space vehicles, probably owned and operated by commercial service providers.
Best regards, Justin Kugler
Many thanks Justin for your message.
Interesting article, what's even more interesting is that this is the second autonomous space shuttle. The first one to my knowledge was in 1988, the Soviet Buran project. It had autonomous lift off(of Energia booster rocket), orbit and landing (although no payload deployment). But as many of the research projects in the soviet times, it was canned, and the shuttle itself is rusting in a park in Moscow.... sigh
Although some static test models of the Buran exist, the unmanned flight vehicle was destroyed when the roof of the hangar collapsed in 2002...
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