CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., Dec. 11, 2012 — Boeing [NYSE: BA] today successfully returned an unmanned U.S. Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle to orbit, continuing to demonstrate how the system provides responsive, reusable access to space.
An Atlas V rocket launched OTV-1, the first of two vehicles in the program, into a low Earth orbit at 1:03 p.m. Eastern time from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 41.
The X-37B, which combines the best of aircraft and spacecraft design in an unmanned test platform, is testing reusable vehicle technologies dealing with space experimentation, risk reduction and concept-of-operations development.
Read the full press release here.
Description and Purpose:
Boeing Experimental Systems Group, a unit of Space and Intelligence Systems, is the prime contractor for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, an unmanned space vehicle that will be used by the United States Air Force to explore reusable space vehicle technologies in support of long-term space objectives. Objectives of the X-37B program include space experimentation, risk reduction, and concept of operations development. Boeing’s involvement in the program dates back to 1999.
The Rapid Capabilities Office of the United States Air Force is the customer for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. Originally a joint research effort between NASA, DARPA, and Boeing, the program transitioned to the United States Air Force in 2004.
The X-37B is one of the world’s newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft. Designed to operate in low-earth orbit, 110 to 500 miles above the Earth at a nominal speed of about 17,500 miles per hour, the vehicle is the first since the Space Shuttle with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis.
Because the X-37B can be returned to Earth, reused, and is designed to be highly flexible and maneuverable, its contributions to space exploration will result in making space access more routine, affordable, and responsive.
The X-37B features many elements that mark a first in space use. The X-37B is one-fourth the size of the Space Shuttle, and relies upon the same family of lifting body design. It also features a similar landing profile. The vehicle was built using lighter composite structures, rather than traditional aluminum. A new generation of high-temperature wing leading-edge tiles will also debut on the X-37B. These toughened uni-piece fibrous refractory oxidation-resistant ceramic (TUFROC) tiles replace the carbon carbon wing leading edge segments on the Space Shuttle. The X-37B will also use toughened uni-piece fibrous insulation (TUFI) impregnated silica tiles, which are significantly more durable than the first generation tiles used by the Space Shuttle.
All avionics on the X-37B are designed to automate all de-orbit and landing functions. Additionally, there are no hydraulics onboard the X-37B; flight controls and brakes use electromechanical actuation.
The on-orbit duration of the X-37B will vary based upon mission requirements, but has the ability to perform missions lasting up to 270 days.
The objectives of the first flight are to demonstrate that the X-37B is able to conduct long-duration operations, and to enable scientists to understand the long-term effects on system components, such as the structure and future payloads. The successful first flight will include achieving orbit, de-orbiting, and safely landing at the primary return location, Vandenberg Air Force Base, or Edwards Air Force Base, if necessary.
Primary Mission- Experimental test vehicle
Prime Contractor- Boeing
Height- 9 feet, 6 inches (2.9 meters)
Length- 29 feet, 3 inches (8.9 meters)
Wingspan- 14 feet, 11 inches (4.5 meters)
Launch Weight- 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms)
Power- Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries
Launch Vehicle- United Launch Alliance Atlas V (501)
Source: Boeing Defense, Space & Security
Recent News: Boeing’s Reusable, Unmanned X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Begins 2nd Flight – December 11, 2012
2nd Boeing-built X37B Orbital Test Vehicle Successfully Completes 1st Flight – June 16, 2012
Boeing Awarded Contract to Complete X-37 Development and Flight Test – November 25, 2002