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Boeing X-37

By Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia,

Early artist's rendition of the X-37
Role Spaceplane
National origin United States
Manufacturer Boeing
First flight April 7, 2006 (drop test)
Status Development and testing
Primary users NASA/DARPA (X-37A)
USAF (X-37B)
Developed from Boeing X-40

The Boeing X-37 Advanced Technology Demonstrator is a demonstration spaceplane that is intended to test future launch technologies while in orbit and during atmospheric reentry. It is a reusable robotic spacecraft that is a 120%-scaled derivative of the X-40A. It flew its first flight as a drop test on April 7, 2006 at Edwards AFB.

Design and development

In 1999, NASA selected the Boeing Integrated Defense Systems to design and develop the vehicle, which was built by the California branch of Boeing's Phantom Works.

The X-37 was transferred from NASA to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on September 13, 2004. The program has become a classified project, though it is not known whether DARPA will maintain this status for the project. NASA's spaceflight program will be centered around the Crew Exploration Vehicle, while DARPA will promote the X-37 as part of the independent space policy which the Department of Defense has pursued since the Challenger disaster.

This vehicle has the potential to become United States' first operational military space plane, after the cancellation of Dyna-Soar. It is expected to operate in a velocity range of up to Mach 25. Among the technologies to be demonstrated with the X-37 are improved thermal protection systems, avionics, the autonomous guidance system, and an advanced airframe. The on-board engine is the Rocketdyne AR-2/3, which is fueled by hydrogen peroxide and JP-8.

The X-37 was originally designed to be carried into orbit in the space shuttle cargo bay, but underwent redesign for launch on a Delta IV or comparable rocket, when it was determined a shuttle flight would be uneconomical.

The vehicle currently operating is an atmospheric drop test vehicle. It has no propulsion system, and where the payload bay doors of an operational vehicle would be, it has a fixed strongback structure instead, to allow it to be mated with a mothership. Also, most of the thermal protection tiles are fake, made of inexpensive foam, rather than ceramic. (Certain tiles in key areas are genuine, as are the TPS blankets in areas where heating is not severe enough to require tiles.)

Drop Test Timeline

On September 2, 2004, it was reported that, for its initial atmospheric drop tests, the X-37 would be launched from the Scaled Composites White Knight, a high-altitude research aircraft better known for launching Scaled's SpaceShipOne.

On June 21, 2005, the X-37 completed a "captive-carry" flight underneath the White Knight at Mojave Spaceport, Mojave, California.

Through the second half of 2005, the X-37 underwent structural upgrades including "beefing-up" of the nose-wheel supports. Further captive-carry flight tests and the first drop-test were expected mid-February 2006.

March 10, 2006 was scheduled for X-37's public debut—first free-flight, to be broadcast live on NASA TV. However, an Arctic storm covered the area, dropping snow on the Mojave. X-37 remained in the airport's Hangar 77, with an occasional engineer popping out onto the flightline to snap pictures of the snow.

The next attempt at a flight, on March 15, 2006, was canceled due to high winds.

March 24, 2006: Although the X-37 flies, datalink failure prevents the free-flight and the vehicle returns to the ground still docked with the White Knight carrier.

April 7, 2006: The X-37 makes its first free flight. During landing, however, an "anomaly" caused the vehicle to run off the runway, sustaining minor damage.

Following an extended down time while the vehicle was repaired, the program moved from Mojave to Air Force Plant 42 (KPMD) in Palmdale, California for the remainder of the flight test program. White Knight continued to be based at Mojave, but would ferry over to Plant 42 when flights were scheduled. Five additional flights were performed, at least one of which is believed to have been a freeflight with a successful landing.

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle

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 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.

A statement from the Secretary of the Air Force, states the OTV program will focus on "risk reduction, experimentation, and operational concept development for reusable space vehicle technologies, in support of long term developmental space objectives."

The X-37B was originally scheduled for launch in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle, however 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.

The first flight of the X-37B is slated for January 2010 on an Atlas V rocket from LC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The spacecraft will be placed into low Earth orbit for several days of testing, then it will be de-orbited for landing. The landing is to occur on a runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base with Edwards Air Force Base as the alternate site.



Data from {name of first source}

General characteristics

  • Crew: None
  • Length: 27 ft 6 in (8.38 m)
  • Wingspan: 15 ft 0 in (4.57 m)
  • Height: ()
  • Loaded weight: 12,000 lb (5,450 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1× Rocketdyne AR-2/3


See also

Related development

External links

Text from Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License; additional terms may apply.

Published in July 2009.

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