Friday, December 3, 2010

X-37B Back on Earth: Photos, Facts, and the Lemming

"First Landing Photos: Secret X-37B Robot Space Plane Lands in Calif."
Tariq Malik, (December 3, 2010)

"The U.S. Air Force's mysterious X-37B robot space plane returned to Earth today (Dec. 3) with a successful landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California before sunrise.

Air Force officials hailed the unmanned X-37B space plane's successful landing, though its mission remains shrouded in secrecy because of its classified nature. But Vandenberg's 30th Space Wing did not shy from snapping photos of the X-37B vehicle, known as the Orbital Test Vehicle 1....

The rest of the article is nine photos of the X-37B, with captions and a little text. Here are two of them:

(Air Force photographer, via, used w/o permission)
"X-37B in Profile: An Air Force photographer snapped this profile view of the X-37B shortly after its Dec. 3 landing."

(, used w/o permission)
"Welcome Home: This X-37B space plane's payload bay is seen clearly in this side view, as is the scale of the spacecraft compared to a human."

Quite a lot of the news and discussion of the X-37B has used words and phrases like "secret," "secretly," and "cloaked in secrecy." Even "mysterious." That caught the Lemming's attention, and it turned out that - well, yeah: part of the project is "secret."

This article has one of the less breathless descriptions about what all that "mysterious" stuff is about:

"...The X-37B began its life in 1999 as a NASA project, then transferred to the Pentagon's DARPA office in 2004. The Air Force took over in 2006. This mission launched on April 22, 2010. The flight's purpose and cost are classified...."
("First Landing Photos: Secret X-37B Robot Space Plane Lands in Calif." Tariq Malik, (December 3, 2010))

Now, another article about the X-37B from

"Secretive X-37B Robot Space Plane Returns to Earth on Autopilot"
Tariq Malik, (December 3, 2010)

"After seven months in space, the U.S. Air Force's secretive X-37B unmanned space plane returned to Earth today to wrap up a debut flight shrouded in secrecy.

"The robotic X-37B space plane landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to end its maiden voyage. The space plane, also known as Orbital Test Vehicle 1, glided back to Earth over the Pacific Ocean before landing at the revamped Vandenberg runway at about 1:16 a.m. PST (0916 GMT) today (Dec. 3).

" 'Today's landing culminates a successful mission based on close teamwork between the 30th Space Wing, Boeing and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office,' said Lt Col Troy Giese, X-37B program manager from the AFRCO, which oversaw the mission. 'We are very pleased that the program completed all the on-orbit objectives for the first mission.'..."

"...The Air Force has kept the exact nature and cost of the X-37B's secretive mission a closely guarded secret, but some analysts and skywatchers have speculated that the spacecraft served as an unmanned orbital spy platform...."

The Lemming thinks that's possible. Maybe the X-37B "secretive" mission is a test run for another spy satellite: a somewhat smarter and more versatile one this time. I've run into people who go ballistic over spy satellites. The argument was somewhat difficult to follow, but apparently spy satellites cause wars because people feel bad about them. Specifically, the people being spied on. Like North Korea's Kim Jong Il. And that's another topic, for another blog.

Or, maybe the X-37B's mission was to rendezvous with the space alien mother ship that's going to land and enslave us all next month. That's not so much unlikely, as simply weird.

The Lemming thinks it's possible that the X-37B might, be tied in with Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion, or SUSTAIN: space Marines, in other words. (April 18, 2010) (Harrumph! What nonsense! Next, the Lemming will be saying that soldiers can fly through the air. Oh, wait - - -.)

The X-37B is a bit small for the sort of rapid-deployment operation SUSTAIN seems to be thinking of. But it wouldn't have to be scaled up all that much.

As for hand-wringing about the military and all that? The Lemming figures enough folks are doing that already. I pass.

The article's got a fair amount of background and information about the X-37B, including this infographic:

(Karl Tate, via, used w/o permission)

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