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Thread: Secret Aircraft

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    *Flashaholic* StarHalo's Avatar
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    Default Secret Aircraft

    We had a pretty happening secret aircraft thread that was lost in The Great Deletion, and there's been no shortage of unique and interesting articles on the subject since then, so this thread will pick up where the last one left off.



    This landed in California today:



    It's the Air Force's X-37B unmanned spacecraft, which was sent into orbit (via rocket) from Cape Canaveral on March 2011 - it was in orbit for 15 months. No other details were given.

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    Flashaholic* EZO's Avatar
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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    I was surprised when I saw the size of the X-37B. It's tiny!
    And the hazmat suits these guys were wearing after the landing are certainly interesting.
    Maybe it has something to do with the brownish stains on the craft that one of them is pointing to.



    Last edited by EZO; 06-16-2012 at 03:13 PM.

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    I love me some X-37B. I've read everything I could find on it and it's very interesting in a between the lines sort of way. Remember when the old, dead, Sov spy sat collided with another sat a year or so ago? The Russian military accused the US of using the X-37 to autonomously capture the dead spy sat and then purposely put it on a collision course with the live one. I don't believe it but it would seem to show that the Russians have done their homework on this and have come to the conclusion that this thing can operate autonomously out to the Clark Belt and they (and nearly everyone else) can't see anything that it does beyond NEO.

    IMO this is all about servicing high endurance sats. A De-facto case could be made for that. Sat watchers were keenly aware that the Shuttle was all about re-fueling and upgrading sats-- the ISS was PR. Now that the shuttle is gone it becomes apparent that there has been a very quiet paradigm shift in satellite maintenance... Recent experimental autonomous maintenance systems launched for sats have had nearly spectacular outcomes so I would fully expect the X-37B to be a follow-on, which is sort of in line with it's mission statement.

    Having said that, this is the blackest of the black. Early on it becomes a thought problem, because it's capabilities are some of the most dearly held secrets... Sussing out nuggets on this is just like trying to find out about sats. It ends up being a counterintuitive process where the answers sometimes lie in the empty spaces between the facts. Patterns...

    BTW-- On HAZMAT suits, if it was refueling sats with hydrazine it would have to be cleaned up before human contact.
    Last edited by Sub_Umbra; 06-16-2012 at 04:23 PM.

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    Flashaholic* Steve K's Avatar
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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Interesting stuff!
    I agree with Sub Umbra regarding the hazmat suits... hydrazine is a common fuel and extremely nasty stuff. I can't imagine what other sort of hazardous material you'd expect to see on a spacecraft.

    Refueling and upgrading sats seems like a necessary task, but does it require a vehicle that can fly back to earth? The only good reason for a lifting body spacecraft is for returning fairly fragile cargo back to earth. For anything else, just throw a heatshield and some parachutes on it.

    Did a lot of satellite maintenance every occur? I spent a little time working on modular power systems for satellites. Some were NASA science satellites, and some were black hole programs. The satellites would routinely work for 10 years or more, like the UARS that returned last year. They never were fixed up or refueled, to my knowledge, despite being built for easy module replacement. The Hubble is the only one that comes to mind. My impression was that a repair mission was as expensive as launching most satellites, so there wasn't much point in going up just to fix one. .... sort of like how it's not practical to fix most consumer electronics nowadays.

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    It came down about 25 miles south of my location. Didn't see it though!
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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    hazmat is for the monopropellant used in thrusters...highly toxic
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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by 127.0.0.1 View Post
    hazmat is for the monopropellant used in thrusters...highly toxic
    Hydrazine [N2H4] is my guess, down here at the cape they use it as a low power monopropellent more often for thrusters than peroxide

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve K View Post
    ...Did a lot of satellite maintenance every occur?...
    Do you remember the classified Shuttle missions with only military crew members? They were refueling Keyhole birds. (Allegedly, Keyhole12 (aka Misty?) and it's decendants are refuelable) Money may be saved by having the capability to refuel sats built for long service life. One Keyhole sat costs about what a modern aircraft carrier costs: $1 billion. It is definitely cheaper to bring up some more fuel than to design, build and launch another billion dollar satellite. We've been plodding in this general direction for years. Decades...

    How many times has just the Hubble been upgraded? Many times.

    For some time now the US has been trying to standardize two things: refueling ports on sats designed for refueling by an autonomous ship and bays for sats that will accept upgrades in standard form factors, again, to be delivered by and swapped out by autonomous ships.

    It's all a very big deal. If they screw up on the design and the sat is delivered to orbit Dead On Arrival or just Fuzzy On Arrival (like the Hubble was) it's a great time, money and face saver to be able to have the tools to fix it. Also many of our sats have service lives long enough that upgrades will be planned even far before initial launch.

    There was a program called NEXT (for Next Generation Sat). Unfortunately, I no longer remember the name of the second half of the program.

    Along these lines we also have a sat delivery bus. Once loaded onto the bus, sats for more than one destination may be launched into a parking orbit for a few days of post-launch testing before final autonomous delivery to their individual stations. The bus will deliver multiple sats much more cheaply than using two or three stages for each.

    Previously our only course for refueling and repairs/upgrades was the Shuttle. If we did not see these very same abilities live on in other systems we would have never retired any Shuttles as long as we had some still flyable.

    My own conclusion is that this is a very versatile ship. The X-37B already far enhances the capabilities of the defunct Shuttle in regards to upgrades and refueling. And even the ongoing developmental costs of these types of unmanned ships are dirt cheap when compared to flying Shuttles around. Of course, having the ability to do meaningful work way, way, way outside the Shuttle's confined environ within NEO is what really makes this thing cook...that and all the black stuff inherent in a vehicle with the range and endurance of the X-37B.
    Last edited by Sub_Umbra; 06-17-2012 at 07:00 PM.

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    I love super secret space technology!
    It was great when the Russians finally admitted that they mounted an autocannon to one of their old spacecrafts and test fired it. Wondered if we've done something similar...

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft


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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Here's the deal:

    The brown goo is mud. We were on the verge of war with an alien race, and rather than duke it out with lasers and bombs and space grenades, NASA and the alien's equivalent, being scientists and not soldiers, decided to settle things with an old fashioned mud fight.

    We're not sure who won, but the fact is, we're still here, so I can only assume a truce or outright win for the peoples of Earth.

    You have a beautiful planet, by the way!
    "...and the diode multiplied and grew in brightness. And God saw that it was good."

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    neat video.
    Always fun to see what parts get hot, etc. It has me wondering why the rudders look hot, and not just the leading edges.

    The soundtrack has me confused too, as it sounds like a jet engine. Might be chase planes? It's certainly not the X-37B itself!

    Steve K.

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve K View Post
    Always fun to see what parts get hot, etc. It has me wondering why the rudders look hot, and not just the leading edges.
    Given how far they stick out, if it's descending then I expect the outer/underside of the tails would come up against a lot of air like the nose and underside of the body & wings would.
    Finning does help dissipate heat. This is why the fins are removed before cooking fish. Otherwise it will throw off the heat and not reach the proper cooking temperature. --Duglite

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by EZO View Post



    ....
    +

    "Hey Larry, look what's inside this thing!"


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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    I've got a quick question. If this suppose to be a "secret", how come there's photos of it?

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by AZPops View Post
    I've got a quick question. If this suppose to be a "secret", how come there's photos of it?
    It can't be completely hidden, but we don't know what it did. One thing that we CAN guess is its ability to redirect orbits.

    Changing orbital inclination costs incredible fuel, so crashing satellites into one another is tricky. Knowing its size (And guessing at fuel contents) and rough engine performance, we can start to guess its ability to nudge other things. But testing imaging systems, detection systems, and maybe even some weapon systems would be harder to detect.

    One could go all star-wars and try to think of how to detect X-ray laser tests and so forth. Honestly, the stuff in orbit is so far away it's hard to see what it's up to. And even harder to know what's inside it. Spaceplanes are nothing new, though. Chuck Yeagar flew sub-orbital spaceplane flights around the time my dad was born - and the Air Force was working on orbit-capable spaceplanes then.
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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by AZPops View Post
    I've got a quick question. If this suppose to be a "secret", how come there's photos of it?
    I had the same thought. Obviously, the "real" secret stuff is still secret and the X-37B is something the Air Force is willing to go public with now.
    Remember when the futuristic looking Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft started making its way into the public consciousness back in the late 80's and early nineties and everyone was in awe of the thing?
    It had been a black project already in service since 1964 before anyone knew about. And the SR-71 was preceded by the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft and the YF-12 interceptor which started development in the late 50's.

    So, I wonder what ever happened to the Aurora?
    Last edited by EZO; 06-18-2012 at 07:05 AM.

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    This looks very similar to the "lifting body" designs of the mid to late 90's, perhaps the reason they went with that instead of a stronger, recoverable capsule is that maybe it was easier to make larger, or perhaps the drawbacks of having to transport wings and fins, reducing the available cargo space, outweighs the benefit of the extra space.

    Either way, I can't wait to see more test launches, and no more sinking sick stomach feeling should this one explode on launch. I like that this appears to be intended for more standard design rockets.

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by AZPops View Post
    I've got a quick question. If this suppose to be a "secret", how come there's photos of it?
    The average Space Shuttle mission was seven days in length. The craft above was in space for roughly 450 days. You know how much a Shuttle crew can accomplish in a week, so what went on for over a year on the X-37B?

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by StarHalo View Post
    The average Space Shuttle mission was seven days in length. The craft above was in space for roughly 450 days. You know how much a Shuttle crew can accomplish in a week, so what went on for over a year on the X-37B?
    The world may never know.
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    Flashaholic* Steve K's Avatar
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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by StarHalo View Post
    The average Space Shuttle mission was seven days in length. The craft above was in space for roughly 450 days. You know how much a Shuttle crew can accomplish in a week, so what went on for over a year on the X-37B?
    well, without the need to sustain the parasitic life form on the spacecraft, it has the freedom to hang around in orbit for quite a while. Maybe they were evaluating how long you can leave a craft with that sort of fuel system parked in orbit w/o things breaking down? Of course, satellites probably already have a similar fuel system, so this seems unlikely.

    Personally, I'm still scratching my head over why they need a vehicle that can fly back to earth when it clearly isn't intended to transport humans. I'll just assume that it brought back valuable cargo of some sort.... spy satellite parts? Parts scavenged off of other countries' satellites? Space mushrooms grown in orbit??

    Steve K.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve K View Post
    ...

    Personally, I'm still scratching my head over why they need a vehicle that can fly back to earth when it clearly isn't intended to transport humans. I'll just assume that it brought back valuable cargo of some sort.... spy satellite parts? Parts scavenged off of other countries' satellites? Space mushrooms grown in orbit??

    Steve K.
    Maybe they're trying to gather helium in anticipation for our upcoming helium shortage.

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    I'm glad they are not just throwing away the vehicles. Hopefully, they even recover the booster stages' gas tanks too. I've always wondered if that is practiced or not.

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by bshanahan14rulz View Post
    I'm glad they are not just throwing away the vehicles. Hopefully, they even recover the booster stages' gas tanks too. I've always wondered if that is practiced or not.
    SpaceX is working on doing so. It isn't standard practice right now.
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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    The average Space Shuttle mission was seven days in length. The craft above was in space for roughly 450 days. You know how much a Shuttle crew can accomplish in a week, so what went on for over a year on the X-37B?
    We have to look at this differently than manned flight. Lots and lots and lots of the time was spent in transit from one far flung place to another. I think it's important to realize that even with no fragile humans on board the X-37B still must use extreme measures to conserve fuel for it's extended missions. That means using tiny amounts of propellant to nudge the ship onto courses where they slowly fall onto slingshots and other effects. These kinds of energy savings are impossible to pull off if you're also trucking huge humans that must eat, drink, stay warm and eliminate waste. More fuel may be saved by catching up with moving objects more slowly than one would have to with humans aboard.

    I'd imagine that an approach that slowly uses gravity and miserly amounts of fuel to propel a ship would also be more stealthy.

    Waiting to slip into a slingshot with humans on board is a nonstarter.

    IMO it may be that if we did know exactly where it went and how many stops it made we may be impressed with how little it seemed to do when compared to the manic activity skeds of manned space missions of the past. This is all about economy and doing things in the most thrifty manner. To that end, at one point in the mission the ship may just be put into a parking station for 3.5 months to wait for a better time to use it's fuel. Can't really do that with humans on board.
    Last edited by Sub_Umbra; 06-19-2012 at 12:34 PM.

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    *Flashaholic* Patriot's Avatar
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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by Sub_Umbra View Post
    One Keyhole sat costs about what a modern aircraft carrier costs: $1 billion.
    Today's carriers are in the $5-7 billion range not including Air Wing but that's a small point. Really enjoyed all of the information in your posts and in this thread. I grew up as a young boy with my face buried in Jane's Military Encyclopedias so this stuff always fascinates me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LEDAdd1ct View Post
    .......

    You have a beautiful planet, by the way!
    you should have seen it 2 centuries ago!
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    Flashaholic* Sub_Umbra's Avatar
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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by Patriot View Post
    Today's carriers are in the $5-7 billion range not including Air Wing but that's a small point. Really enjoyed all of the information in your posts and in this thread. I grew up as a young boy with my face buried in Jane's Military Encyclopedias so this stuff always fascinates me.
    That's true but when the KH12 was launched a carrier cost a billion... Of course, a billion isn't what it used to be...

    A new KH bird today would probably still cost about the same as a carrier. Some things never change.

    In the 1870s if you had a US $20 gold piece to spend you could buy a really nice suit or you could buy a Colt Peacemaker 45. It turns out that today if you have the same coin you may still buy a very nice suit and on most days it's still worth enough to buy a Colt Peacemaker 45.
    Last edited by Sub_Umbra; 06-19-2012 at 04:26 PM.

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve K View Post
    neat video.
    Always fun to see what parts get hot, etc. It has me wondering why the rudders look hot, and not just the leading edges.

    Yeah, that's very interesting. I'm not sure why the center of the diagonal stabilizers would be indicating that high a temp. unless it's just acting like a big heat sink due to significant required structure. I imagine there's a lot of load on control surfaces as they have to handle pitch roll and yaw.


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    Quote Originally Posted by TedTheLed View Post
    you should have seen it 2 centuries ago!
    Meanwhile, Ted's doing his part by living in grass huts and burning zero coal, oil, or wood... Just giving ya a hard time buddy!

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    Default Re: Secret Aircraft

    Looking around military airbases and what they've left parked outside is half the reason to have Google Earth; a screencap at the Skunkworks facility reveals a covered craft that hasn't been announced to the public yet:


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