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Boeing X-37B OTV-1 (Orbital Test Vehicle 1) is the first orbital flight of the U.S. military space plane prototype and the first vehicle since the space shuttle orbiter able to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis. It maybe launched on an Atlas V rocket from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on April 20, 2010.

U.S. military X-37B space plane prototype

The reusable robotic X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) is a small space shuttle-like craft. The craft will launch like a satellite, housed in a fairing atop an expendable Atlas V Rocket and will be placed into low Earth orbit for testing, then it will be de-orbited for landing. The landing is to occur on a runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California with Edwards Air Force Base as the alternate site. The X37-B craft was built by Boeing's Phantom Works with the mission run under the wing of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

The X-37B is a risk reduction vehicle for space experimentation and to explore concepts of operation for a long duration, reusable space vehicle. The first flight will focus on vehicle checkout and test of subsystems such as thermal management, power control and distribution, and attitude control.

The duration of the mission hasn't been announced, although an Air Force spokesperson has said the vehicle has a requirement to be on-orbit for up to 270 days. The Air Force isn't saying what equipment is stowed inside the spaceplane's unpressurized cargo hold, which is about the size of a pickup truck bed.


Specifications:

Length 29 feet (8.8 meters)
Wingspan 14 feet (4.2 meters)
Weight 11,000 pounds (4,989 kg)
Experiment Bay  -
On-Orbit Propulsion  -
Propellant  -
Manufacturer  Boeing

History

NASA guided the project through its infancy before funding dried up in 2004 and the agency handed over its X-37 assets to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The Air Force took over in 2006 after another programmatic shake-up.

On November 17, 2006 the U.S. Air Force announced it would develop the X-37B from the NASA X-37A. The Air Force version is designated X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). The OTV program builds on industry and government investments by DARPA, NASA and the Air Force. The X-37B effort will be led by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and includes partnerships with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Boeing is the prime contractor for the OTV program.

The X-37B was originally scheduled for launch in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle, but following the Columbia accident, it was transferred to a Delta II 7920. It was subsequently transferred to the Atlas V following concerns over the spacecraft's aerodynamic properties during launch.

A second test for the X-37B is scheduled for 2011.

Related:

Military Space Books: includes Spy Satellites, Dyna-Soar, Ballistic Missile Defense and more.


X-37b Space Vehicle links:

Air Force's Mystery X-37B Space Plane Fuels Speculation: By Space.com (18/4/2010

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Updated: Tuesday 1st, April, 2014

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