AIR FORCE DEVELOPING SPACE PLANE.
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE -- The Air Force says it is developing a computer-controlled, unmanned space plane for experiments and testing, with landings possible at Edwards Air Force Base.
The first spacecraft since the shuttles to have the ability to return space experiments to Earth, the new Orbital Test Vehicle would be a space-going version of a computer-controlled engineless craft called the X-37 that recently completed flight tests at Edwards.
``Based on NASA's X-37 design, the unmanned OTV is designed for vertical launch to low Earth orbit altitudes where it can perform long duration space technology experimentation and testing,'' according to a document released by the Air Force last week.
The budget for the craft, designated X-37B, is classified. The first flight is tentatively slated for 2008.
Technologies to be tested include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, and lightweight electromechanical flight systems. In addition, the X-37B will demonstrate the ability to guide itself through re-entry and landing.
The spacecraft will be more than 29 feet long and have a wingspan of almost 15 feet, slightly bigger than the X-37. The spacecraft will be boosted into space on a Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket.
The program will be led by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and will be assisted by NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Boeing is the prime contractor for the X-37B program, as it was for the X-37, which was built in Palmdale.
The X-37 made its test flights despite a history of cancellations and changing sponsors. The program was first launched during the Clinton administration and was built to test technologies that could be used in future spacecraft, including new thermal-protection systems, composite materials and advanced navigation and control systems.
The aircraft was initially funded at $173 million, with the costs being shared by NASA, Boeing and the Air Force. The Air Force later dropped out of the program.
Work on the program then continued under a $301 million contract to support a now-canceled NASA effort to develop a manned spacecraft to augment the space shuttle fleet.
The program was then picked up by the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, which was seeking to advance cost-effective, reliable access to space.
DARPA conducted three flight tests with the X-37, which was taken aloft for its flights by another aircraft and released. The craft then flew itself to landings at Edwards.
The X-37 was carried aloft by the Mojave-based Scaled Composites Company's White Knight, the same aircraft that served as the mother ship for the suborbital space flights of designer Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne in 2004.
On its first flight, April 7, the X-37 flew flawlessly but was damaged when it rolled off the runway during its landing. Repairs were made, and the aircraft flew again Aug. 18, this time making a flawless flight.
A final flight was held on Sept. 26.
This U.S. Air Force artwork shows the Orbital Test Vehicle, a new Boeing craft that will be the first spacecraft since the shuttles to have the ability to return experiments to Earth.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Nov 26, 2006|
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