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The x 37 B

Sunday, 9 December 2012

This story is from Florida Today..and it's ace space reporter Todd Halverson.

 The military’s mysterious mini-shuttle is set to launch this week on a classified mission that has captured the imaginations of everyone from amateur satellite trackers to anti-nuclear protestors and potential military adversaries Russia and China.
Built by Boeing’s secretive Phantom Works in Huntington Beach, Calif., the Air Force X-37B spacecraft is rumored to be everything from a space bomber to a satellite-killer or a test-bed for advanced spy satellite sensors.
The Air Force is revealing little.
“Inquiring minds want to know, right?” said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a leading source of defense, space and intelligence information.
“But posing this question presumes that (the mini-shuttle) does serve some specific purpose. And I think that might be imposing greater rationality on the whole thing than is warranted.”
Birthed by NASA in 1999, the project shifted to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2004, and then to the U.S. Air Force in 2006. Tuesday’s planned launch of the winged vehicle will be the X-37B’s third mission.
Pike thinks the program exists, well, because it exists.
“To the extent that it does have a purpose, I think its purpose is to keep the Chinese guessing as to what the purpose is.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists holds a similar view. The nonprofit group says that bureaucratic inertia “may help keep the space-plane concept alive.”
“In a time of tightening budgets, the administration and Congress should take a close look at the X-37B program and figure out why they’re spending money on a program that has no persuasive rationale,” said Laura Grego, a senior scientist with the organization.
Here’s what we do know about the mini-shuttle set to launch atop an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station:
• About one-fourth of the size of a NASA shuttle orbiter, the X-37B is a reusable, robotic vehicle.
• The unmanned spacecraft has no crew cabin, no life support systems, and neither the Air Force nor NASA has indicated a desire to upgrade it for human spaceflight.

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