Everything we know about the US X-37B spaceplane

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OTV-4 stationary at the Shuttle Landing Facility.

The project was then labeled as classified. The X-37 was promoted by DARPA as part of the independent space policy that the US Department of Defense has been pursuing since the Challenger disaster in 1986.

X-37B Vital Stats

These statistics are taken from official figures and other quoted figures, which are readily available to the public.

  • Crew: None/Standalone
  • Payload capacity: 500 lbs (227 kg)
  • Length: 29 feet 3 inches (8.9 meters)
  • wingspan: 14 feet 11 inches (4.5 meters)
  • Height: 9 feet 6 inches (2.9 meters)
  • Max launch weight: 11,000 lbs (4,990 kg)
  • Electric power: Gallium arsenide solar cells with lithium-ion batteries
  • Launch vehicles: United Launch Alliance Atlas V (501) and SpaceX Falcon 9
  • Payload bay: 7 feet (2.1 meters) × 4 feet (1.2 meters)
  • Orbital speed: 17,426 mph (28,044 kph)
  • Orbit: Low Earth orbit

Is the X-37B a weapon?

Although it has flown six missions to date, the true purpose of the X-37B remains a mystery. Understandably, the Space Force’s latest orbital test vehicle drone has raised suspicions at home and abroad as to its real purpose. Is it a space-based anti-satellite strike plane? Is it used for high altitude surveillance and deployment of spy satellites?

Here's everything we know for sure about the US' experimental X-37B spaceplane

The X-37B orbital test vehicle in its “encapsulation cell” at the Astrotech facility in 2010.

Can it track enemy weapons or launch missile attacks? These and other questions abound as the Boeing-built space drone advances in technological development.

According to the Pentagon, the X-37B was recently fitted with a new service module that allowed a large number of experiments to be transported into orbit. During one mission in 2020, the X-37B deployed a small satellite called FalconSat-8, which contained five experimental payloads designed by NASA and the US Air Force. It was the first time the military revealed details of such a shipment.

According to an Air Force report, the program tests advanced guidance, navigation and control, avionics, thermal protection systems, compliant reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems , advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing. technologies.

“On command from the ground, the OTV autonomously re-enters the atmosphere, descends and lands horizontally on a runway,” an Air Force statement read.

Here's everything we know for sure about the US' experimental X-37B spaceplane

Three-view shots of the X-37B.

The Air Force’s stated technologies raise many intriguing and important issues, many of which have to do with the ability to perform activities at extremely high speeds and, therefore, high temperatures. In 2019, former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told an Aspen Security Forum panel that the X-37B could fly low enough to use Earth’s atmosphere to alter its orbit, maneuvers that could be designed to prevent enemies from predicting exactly how the craft will move.

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