Technology & Freedom

Air Force Plans Launch of Orbital Test Vehicle

The Air Force plans to launch an orbital test vehicle into space on April 19 to conduct technology tests in orbit—but the ultimate purpose of the vehicle’s construction remains a mystery.

The X-37B Orbital Vehicle is part of a longstanding project that originated with NASA, was transferred to the Pentagon, and now stands under control of the U.S. Air Force.

The vehicle will be a “reusable” spacecraft, able to conduct un-piloted orbit operations for up to 21 days while serving as a testing ground for various technologies and projects in space. The craft is only 29 feet long and nine-and-a-half feet tall, with a wingspan of 14 feet, 11 inches.

The unmanned vehicle can be used to bring advanced technology up into space orbit, allow the technology to be tested there, and return it to base—while both descending through the atmosphere and landing on its own.

‘The vehicle allows satellite sensors, subsystems, components and associated technology to be transported into the environment where they will be used—space,” states globalsecurity.org.

A story by the Associated Press on April 3 expressed confusion as to the vehicle’s ultimate purpose, and a defense policy expert shares that same bewilderment.

“Welcome to the club,” said John Pike, director of globalsecurity.org, when asked by HUMAN EVENTS about the mystery of the X-37B’s ultimate mission.

Pike said that about a half-dozen to a dozen related programs exist. He said that he could not figure out what the programs collectively entailed.

“I looked into this a couple of years ago—the entire sort of hypersonic, suborbital, scramjet nest of programs—of which there are upwards of a dozen,” Pike told the AP. “The more I studied it, the less I understood it.”

The collection of programs “made no sense,” Pike told HUMAN EVENTS, and could just be a case of a “massive absence of adult supervision” over defense and military programs.

“Not everything is as it appears,” Pike said, noting that some defense programs may exist just to serve as decoys to foreign intelligence. He did say that there may be a classified hypersonic military program, which the X-37B could be a part of.

However, Pike acknowledged that the program could be anything from a decoy to a military space craft to one of many random military projects enjoying the “massive absence of adult supervision.”

Globalsecurity.org provided a description of the X-37 program. “The purpose of the X-37 Orbital Vehicle was to provide a versatile technology demonstrator platform on which to mature, through demonstration, critical technologies required by future space transportation systems,” the website states.

However, as the AP reported, additional questions are aroused by the planned vehicle launch of the X-37B.

A booster rocket is used to transport the vehicle into space, and in order for the vehicle to be “reusable” and conduct multiple missions, the rocket will need to be constructed so as to be capable of landing back on earth to be reused with the spacecraft.

Peter A. Wilson, a defense research analyst for RAND Corp., told the AP that he does not believe that there is support for the development of such a rocket.

Wilson also said that no evidence exists that proves the existence of a second vehicle to follow the first one, which should usually serve as a test for successive vehicles.

The vehicle was built by the Boeing Co.’s Phantom Works. It is a part of a program which was begun by NASA in 1999. In 2004, the project was transferred to the Defense Department, and later the Air Force started work on the X-37B, which it plans to launch into space on April 19.

The AP reports that while “hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the X-37 program,” the ultimate expenditure totals have not been released as of yet.

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