connies4ever
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3rd OTV Mission

Sun Dec 23, 2012 10:01 am

Recently an Atlas lifted the OTV into orbit on its' (I believe) 3rd mission. In fact, I think this is the same article that performed the initial test flight.

Question in my mind is: is this another test flight or operational ? For example, looking at NK's rocket launch facility, although probably a KH satellite would do as good a job. To my mind, this is likely more an operational mission to evaluate new USAF technologies, and, as a practical matter, give their men and women hands-on experience launching, tracking, communicating, and finally, recovering and refurbishing a spaceplane so as to put this knowledge to future use with a new vehicle. Like a 21st century Dyna-Soar ...

Opinions anyone ?
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rwessel
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RE: 3rd OTV Mission

Thu Dec 27, 2012 6:41 am

The USAF has been remarkably tightlipped about the X-37's mission. Frankly anything discussed publicly is just speculation.

While the orbits are compatible with a surveillance mission, they're hardly unique to that application. OTOH, the time-on-orbit is weird too, why recover a surveillance asset after a year? And you'd think that most stuff where you wanted to bring something back would use much short missions. Nor do such lengthy missions really make sense for the stated purpose to "demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force". The X-37 would make for a mediocre spy sat anyway - the cargo bay is simply too small to accommodate a large mirror (by comparison, the later KH-11s had ~3m mirrors) - and in any event, you could easily deploy a much larger surveillance satellite on the same Atlas than you could in the X-37's payload bay.

So what is it for? Beats the heck out of me.
 
bigjku
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RE: 3rd OTV Mission

Thu Dec 27, 2012 2:53 pm

Quoting rwessel (Reply 1):
So what is it for? Beats the heck out of me.

I have a few guesses. It is a highly agile orbital platform that can move around and look at a lot of different things. I would guess the following are all in its bag of tricks.

1. Give non-US satellites a really good once over. The X-37 should be able to get close to a variety of space platforms using its ability to move around and given them a really good look both visually and electronically. That is obviously valuable in any number of ways.

2. A stated use of the thing is to extend the life of US orbital assets through refueling and solar panel replacement. That should increase US orbital presence (or decrease the cost for keeping the same presence in orbit) which is an obvious benefit.

3. I would guess that given 2 is known and 1 is kind of implied I think one can assume there is an anti-sat capability that is basically implied in the design. If the thing can use its manipulating arm(s) to remove and replace solar panels it could just as easily tear them off and leave them off. Or attach a small demolition device (or even a small thruster to deorbit the thing) to other sats out there.
 
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Tugger
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RE: 3rd OTV Mission

Thu Dec 27, 2012 5:05 pm

Quoting rwessel (Reply 1):
X-37

The thing to remember is: "X"

This really is just an "X" system (plane), it is part of the development cycle and is used to learn what is actually possible to do with it. The active service one we will not see and will not know much about if anything. It will probably be sold to the public as just another launch and we will assume they are launching another spy satellite. They will also probably keep using the X-37 in a somewhat decoy function for as long as they can in order to deceive any interested parties as to the Program's development (or active) status.

Tugg
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rwessel
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RE: 3rd OTV Mission

Thu Dec 27, 2012 8:11 pm

Quoting BigJKU (Reply 2):
1. Give non-US satellites a really good once over. The X-37 should be able to get close to a variety of space platforms using its ability to move around and given them a really good look both visually and electronically. That is obviously valuable in any number of ways.

I've seen no evidence that the X-37 has particularly great ability to change orbits. And if that were you're mission, a non-reusable satellite with the same size imaging device you could fit in the X-37's bay could carry vastly more maneuvering fuel, and likely could image several target satellites for a single launch. The X-37 is ill suited to that mission because of the high mass of the ship itself (which requires more fuel for orbital changes), and the lack of space and payload mass ability for storing that fuel. Not to mention the small size of the payload bay, which will limit your optics.

Quoting BigJKU (Reply 2):
2. A stated use of the thing is to extend the life of US orbital assets through refueling and solar panel replacement. That should increase US orbital presence (or decrease the cost for keeping the same presence in orbit) which is an obvious benefit.

Which doesn't explain the very long on-orbit times.

Quoting BigJKU (Reply 2):
3. I would guess that given 2 is known and 1 is kind of implied I think one can assume there is an anti-sat capability that is basically implied in the design. If the thing can use its manipulating arm(s) to remove and replace solar panels it could just as easily tear them off and leave them off. Or attach a small demolition device (or even a small thruster to deorbit the thing) to other sats out there.

We have an ASAT capability, but it creates a lot of debris. If you wanted to do a capture and deorbit, a much smaller one-shot vehicle, launched on a much smaller booster, would likely make more sense. And again, the long durations don't make a lot of sense for that role.

While I can see some (occasional) use for returning stuff to earth, remember that this thing still needs a $85 million launcher to fly. If you don't need the return capability, launching on a smaller booster would save a log of money for the same useful payload - a Vega, for example, would save you about $60 million off the Atlas V 501 they're using for the X-37 (and lift what's probably about the payload of the X-37). That $60m will buy you a considerable amount of capability for a non-reusable vehicle.

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