Print 28 comment(s) - last by delphinus100.. on May 28 at 11:44 AM

The X-37B space plane is reportedly on a top secret surveillance mission for the U.S. Air Force.  (Source: U.S. Air Force)

The X-51A missile is designed to hit targets at hypersonic speeds without being confused with a nuclear warhead.  (Source: U.S. Air Force)

The X-51A hypersonic missile will take flight tomorrow.  (Source: U.S. Air Force)
The Air Force's latest toy appears not to be a weapon of destruction, but rather one of intelligence

The Space Shuttle may be dead, but the Air Force is looking to pick up the slack.  Last month they launched their secret space plane, the X-37B, from a base from Florida.  The spacecraft is currently on the first part of a top secret nine month mission that will end with a soft landing in California.

So is the X-37B the Air Force's first foray into creating the world's first starfighter?  Absolutely, not says the Air Force.  Gary E. Payton, under secretary of the Air Force for space programs says that the plane carries "no offensive capabilities."  He states, "The program supports technology risk reduction, experimentation and operational concept development."

These claims seem to be supported by new data from amateur star watchers.  Ted Molczan, a member of a skywatching team in Toronto, was among those who spotted the secret craft and analyzed its course.  They found that like the Space Shuttle, it flew at a pretty typical altitude of 255 miles above the Earth's surface and circled the Earth every 90 minutes.  Its course takes it as far north as 40 degrees latitude, just below New York City.

The interesting thing that Molczan noted was that the craft was passed the same point exactly every four days -- a typical format followed by spy satellites.  And its trajectory took it past interesting locations, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea.  Thus Molczan and other amateur observers are saying that the Air Force is probably being honest about the craft's lack of weapons, and it's probably testing high tech surveillance equipment.

If the X-37B indeed does 
not hold space weapons, fans of high-tech weapons can soften their disappointment with the news that the X-51A Waverider hypersonic missile will conduct its first test flight tomorrow.

The new missile is designed to have a unique profile from traditional ICBMs, to prevent nuclear powers like China and Russia from mistaking the missile for a nuclear warhead.  The missile is to be launched from a B-52 Stratofortress bomber.

The almost wingless craft will use atmospheric oxygen to burn a mix of ethylene and JP-7 fuel initially, before transitioning to pure JP-7 fuel.   This is different that previous attempts, such as the X-43A, which used hydrogen fuel.  By ditching the need for hydrogen the hypersonic platform becomes more promising logistically.  The new platform employs a bleeding edge Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne SJY61 scramjet engine and also employs advanced thermal protections.

The missile will climb 70,000 feet before descending at speeds in excess of Mach 6.  Four test vehicles currently exist -- there are no plans of recovering the missile after the initial test.  The hope is that it will keep transmitting data though until impact.

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Vote the petition to stop this!
By FaceMaster on 5/24/2010 5:56:34 PM , Rating: 5
We can't let this go ahead. There's a 0.000000000000000000001% chance that it'll DESTROY the world, since this sort of stuff has never been done before. I pray that the scientists see sense and stop this world-destroying experiment before it's too late. It's simply not worth the risk!

By jjmcubed on 5/24/2010 6:01:42 PM , Rating: 5
Won't somebody think about the children???

RE: Vote the petition to stop this!
By S3anister on 5/24/2010 6:16:45 PM , Rating: 1
Oh yes, because technological progress of any sort is going to end our world...

/end sarcasm

By Hyperion1400 on 5/25/2010 7:37:40 AM , Rating: 5

And there goes the B-52 Stratofortress flying 50,000 Ft. over your head.

By callmeroy on 5/25/2010 8:29:17 AM , Rating: 3
I'm fairly sure the joke is referring to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) (you can read up on it here:

Back before they did the initial testing folks all over the world in blogs and forum posts were touting concern (some really believed it, many just joked about it) that it could in short create black holes and therefore threaten the safety of the entire world......yeah I know....I didn't think it was realistic either, but hey...the world is full of all types!

RE: Vote the petition to stop this!
By inperfectdarkness on 5/25/2010 8:29:49 AM , Rating: 1
hello? westboro baptist church? is that you?

By callmeroy on 5/25/2010 8:33:17 AM , Rating: 2
LOL..oh man I'd PAY the government/military to 'accidentally' bomb that place!

RE: Vote the petition to stop this!
By Yeah on 5/25/2010 12:24:54 PM , Rating: 2
What... nunyall played Half Life?

By Smartless on 5/24/2010 5:59:34 PM , Rating: 2
I think that should be mentioned though at least the original article stated it is. For some reason, when I see space plane I think it's got someone in it. Than I saw how long its going to stay up there.

Back to the point, its interesting we're testing more space tech for jobs we've had for atmosphere stuff. Like cruise missiles and spy planes. Next thing you know, our paratroopers will be dropped from orbit too.

By HostileEffect on 5/24/2010 6:30:11 PM , Rating: 2
I suspect you look at too much section 8... possible... meyyybbbeee... in 50 years.

By ekv on 5/24/2010 7:18:29 PM , Rating: 2
Or he was just reading

give 'em a can of the Red stuff and kick their butt out the door...

By Dark Legion on 5/25/2010 11:27:37 AM , Rating: 2
By ekv on 5/25/2010 3:08:48 PM , Rating: 2
Umm, I wouldn't really want to be packing paratroopers into a glider that crashes... 8)

Of course, I wouldn't put them in a balloon either.

Put them on a space station, then tell 'em to "go pound the ground" as you kick their butt out the door. Of course, that might bring a few more problems than the face mask fogging up 8)

By JediJeb on 5/25/2010 5:46:55 PM , Rating: 2
But just imagine, you could fly a bunch of paratroopers over enemy territory and just tell everyone it was a weather balloon. Drop them out at night wearing radar absorbing suits and bingo :)

By ekv on 5/25/2010 11:11:46 PM , Rating: 2
"Ok, hang on guys. Just a little longer. The wind shifted again."

"But I gotta go, man."

"You got the still suit on, right?"


"Still suit ... (oh crap, wrong book)"

"no man, just #1. But this 'instrument pod' is more like a telephone booth ... and it's been 19 hours."

By delphinus100 on 5/28/2010 11:44:57 AM , Rating: 2
For some reason, when I see space plane I think it's got someone in it. Than I saw how long its going to stay up there.

A lot of people also assume that something that superficially resembles a Shuttle orbiter, must also be as big as one. Here's a little perspective...

...Spooky intel gathering sensors in this? Quite likely. Crews or 'Death Star' weapons in a vehicle that might fit in a two-car garage? Forget it. We have other, faster, easier ways to do damage.

US Air Force
By Totally on 5/24/2010 5:45:14 PM , Rating: 5
Hypersonic death delivery service. I like it.

Awesome, typo
By Chapbass on 5/25/2010 9:44:49 AM , Rating: 2
So is the X-37B the Air Force's first foray into creating the world's first starfighter? Absolutely, not says the Air Force.

Haha, I'm not one to point out typos usually, but on my first read I was just like "what? Absolutely?"

While it isn't perfect, it threw me for a small loop.

By corduroygt on 5/24/10, Rating: -1
RE: Finally!
By softbatch on 5/24/2010 8:03:05 PM , Rating: 5
OMG! They're aiming this thing at Polar Bears!!!

RE: Finally!
By CharonPDX on 5/24/2010 10:10:16 PM , Rating: 2
X-15 still holds the *MANNED* air-launched suborbital speed record, but SpaceShipOne beat its altitude record in the manned category.

And the X-43A, launched in 2004, holds the unmanned air-launched suborbital speed record, at 7500 MPH. (Compared to the X-15's 4500 MPH.) It was an air-breather, too; while the X-15 was rocket.

RE: Finally!
By afkrotch on 5/24/2010 10:11:21 PM , Rating: 2
Until this missile can drop down to Earth, club a baby seal, and then fly back and explode on N.Korea, I want to save the polar bears.

RE: Finally!
By yxalitis on 5/25/2010 12:02:29 AM , Rating: 3 far as you know, I have no doubt that the US military has surpassed that milestone, but the vehicle remains classified.

RE: Finally!
By AstroGuardian on 5/25/10, Rating: -1
RE: Finally!
By callmeroy on 5/25/2010 8:32:14 AM , Rating: 2
Well unless it changed (and if it did still...thing how long it did hold the records) the fastest "jet" in the world the XR-71 Black Bird is from the 1960's.

I always thought that sounded odd for modern times...our fastest jet was built back when TVs still looked like furniture pieces!

RE: Finally!
By knutjb on 5/25/2010 10:58:26 AM , Rating: 2
Do forget the A-12/SR-71 was designed with sliderules and runs on the same fuel, JP-7. The Pegasus flew with a scram jet.

Look here for other programs

RE: Finally!
By JediJeb on 5/25/2010 5:54:20 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe we should throw out the computers and go back to using slide rules. At least back then people seemed to be better able to engineer things to last. Or maybe we just need to take the computers away from the accountants and managers so the engineers can do their work without having all their money wasted on unrelated junk.

RE: Finally!
By citizend13 on 5/27/2010 9:18:46 AM , Rating: 1
They're wasting money on this when they have a perfectly good weapon to do the job- Just drop Chuck Norris from a B-52. He can do a hypersonic roundhouse kick.

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