Space Robotics

Phantom of the Operating Shuttle?

Posted 16 Mar 2010 at 03:08 UTC by The Swirling Brain Share This

phantom_shuttle reports about a mysterious Robotic Shuttle that will be launched April 19th. This is the first time I've even heard of such a shuttle replacement. I mean, I thought NASA dumped the idea of a shuttle completely and went for the super Apollo type mission to go to the Moon or Mars? So at a time when mothballing the old Space Shuttle debate is going ballistic, what happens? Well, it looks like the Air Force pulled a fast one and went ahead and had it's own space shuttle secretly built by Boeing Phantom Works. The new autonomous robotic Space Shuttle is dubbed the X37B. Revealing a new Space Shuttle at this time is probably not going to help the Obama administration with all the harsh Space Agency criticism they've been getting lately. In my opinion it shames the Obama Administration and NASA because neither came up with this dreamy vehicle, the Air Force had to. One could argue that NASA has limited funds or how NASA and the Air Force is sort of two sides of the same coin, yada yada. It probably shames the Air Force too for not informing Obama they had a secret space shuttle. Anyway, the Air Force didn't commission just any space shuttle to be made, they had made a small, efficient, robotic, autonomous space shuttle. It can go up, deploy some secret payload, and come down and land all on it's own the article says! OK, well, details are sketchy so it's probably not completely autonomous but it appears to be just as much autonomously controlled by robotic equipment as the original shuttle was controlled by humans in the cockpit. That's very impressive. Awesome. So... now that such a robotic shuttle is made public and known to exist, I wonder if the Air Force will let NASA use it for non-military missions? Naw, probably not.

Regarding the X-37, posted 16 Mar 2010 at 15:33 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

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 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

Thanks, posted 16 Mar 2010 at 15:35 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

Many thanks Justin for your message.

Buran, posted 17 Mar 2010 at 15:17 UTC by mentar » (Apprentice)

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

Buran Destroyed in 2002, posted 17 Mar 2010 at 23:29 UTC by Nelson » (Journeyer)

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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