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Boeing Suggests Possible Manned Version of the X-37B Space Plane 87

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the zoom-out-enhance-scale-up dept.
garymortimer writes with an article in sUAS News. From the article: "A Boeing chief has suggested that the company's mysterious unmanned space-plane, called X-37B, developed for the US Air Force, could be scaled up and modified to carry astronauts. The company's X-37B project chief Art Grantz revealed that at least two more versions of the 9-meter long space-plane are under investigation – one of which involves adding a crew to a much-enlarged version of the space drone, New Scientist reported. If built, the new version would give the US back its ability to shuttle people to the International Space Station."
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Boeing Suggests Possible Manned Version of the X-37B Space Plane

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  • Nice one (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by Dunbal (464142) *
    Promise a manned vehicle to access a space station that is to be de-orbited in 2016-2020. So considering it's almost 2012, you now have 4 years to finish this project. Yeah right. Oh wait I see the game now. The project will be finished 6 months before the ISS is de-orbited, and so there will be calls for a new space station to give this next generation "shuttle" a reason for existing. This is better than the job creation lawyers engage in!
    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      There is no plans to de orbit the ISS yet there is an agreement to keep using it until 2020 but that can be extended.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        However if the Russians don't get soyuz working again soon the ISS will be abandoned 6 weeks from now.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Considering how much of the cost of the ISS comes from putting the pieces in orbit to begin with, you can be pretty sure that they won't be de-orbiting it until they have to.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      We shouldn't buy hotdog buns. There are 12 in a package but only 10 hotdogs per package.
    • Because MIR came down in 1999 like the original plan......... oh wait
      • by lennier1 (264730)

        They're Russians. If it hadn't been for us whining westerners the Russians would still be getting their money's worth out of the Mir station, simply patching it up as they go.

    • by vlm (69642)

      so there will be calls for a new space station to give this next generation "shuttle" a reason for existing.

      Funny you should mention the OPSEK... built partially out of parts of the ISS. What happens if the russian repo man tries to remove "their" parts of the ISS to install them on the OPSEK and "we" aren't ready to deorbit the ISS? This will be interesting...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OPSEK [wikipedia.org]

      • by Anonymous Coward

        From the link:

        According to the Russian manned spaceflight contractor RKK Energia, the new station must be able to perform the following tasks:[3]

        Large spacecraft assembly
        Flight tests and launches
        Creating, servicing and completing inter-orbital tugs
        Providing medical and biological conditions required for the rehabilitation of inter-planetary expedition crews after their return to Earth orbit.

        In

  • And they plan to launch it with which man-rated rocket?

    • by idontgno (624372)
      This one [wikipedia.org]. Assuming the gov goes through with funding the human-rating process and any engineering changes needed. I guess some seed money has already gone to ULA to kickstart the process.
      • SpaceX diversion (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mbkennel (97636) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @03:26PM (#37682536)

        The whole point of this ploy is to distract from the much more efficient and low cost SpaceX system.

        The primary competency of the United Launch Alliance group is managing government procurement, secrecy regulations, and Congressional politics.

        The primary competency of SpaceX is cost-efficient rocket engineering.

        • by doug (926)
          Don't care. This won't stop SpaceX. And who knows, maybe it will turn out to be a viable launch system. I don't care much about who is behind these systems, as long as we get something that enables manned space flight. And I would prefer competition to a single source.
        • by khallow (566160)
          I agree with doug [slashdot.org]. Either it's a distraction and will go down in flames, or a real competitor. The former can be ignored and the latter helps keep SpaceX straight.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          SpaceX doesn't make reusable craft, they make rockets. Yeah, they're working on one but it hasn't been proven yet. They got a mocked up Dragon to fly but they didn't test it with humans yet and they're two years off from trying.

          Whereas, Virgin Galactic is funding Burt Rutan and does. However, they have been having trouble replicating their earlier successes. And, in fact, one of the customers who ponied up money to Virgin for a space flight asked for a refund because they've failed to deliver on their promi

      • by idontgno (624372)
        And a few moments of Google-fu yields this article [universetoday.com] about man-rating the proposed LV for the X-37C platform.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by maroberts (15852)

      The X-37B is 9 meters long and fits in/on a normal rocket. I'm sure SpaceX, Boeing or ArianeSpace can lift 5 metric tonnes into space on their rockets, to name just a few. Even if a human capable X-37 is larger and doubles in weight, there's no shortage of rockets capable of punting it up there.

      It would be a few years in the future in any event and some or all of the above will be regarded as 'safe' for astronauts by then.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's fine. A human-rated rocket has to be developed regardless of the approach. This is more about whether it's better to use a cone-shaped capsule with ocean splashdown and recovery (Orion), or a winged ship made for landing on an airstrip like the shuttle and X-37B.

  • All you'd need is a targeting system with a big rotating mirror, and you'd have everything you need to vaporize a human target from space.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Or make popcorn.
  • Would this the first manned unmanned space plane?? Exciting times!
  • And it's wings will have an 'X' formation, with laser beams that shoot out of the tips. Now, we just need to come up with a name for this thing.
  • All of the time and energy and money spent on this spacecraft and the space station needs to be leveraged to keep man in space to stay. Instead of discarding current platforms before there are viable replacements, lets try to actually use what we have while we have it, instead of throwing it away so we can "afford" a better one.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Instead of discarding current platforms before there are viable replacements, lets try to actually use what we have while we have it, instead of throwing it away so we can "afford" a better one.

      A spacecraft you can't afford to fly is useless. You might as well tow it straight to the museum.

      According to an article I read yesterday, this may be more to do with attempting to find a justification for keeping the X-37 program going when no-one seems to know what it's meant to be for. Certainly using it to go to ISS doesn't seem to make sense when you can just fly a SpaceX Dragon there instead and the X-37 suffers from many of the same safety problems as the shuttle; it still has wings that have a marke

      • when no-one seems to know what it's meant to be for

        Well, no one that doesn't need to know. ;-) From what I've gleaned, I suspect there is a deliverable here to someone.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        The wings weren't a problem for the shuttle. Take a look at all the carbon scoring on the body to realize they only replaced sections that they had to.

        No the two main problems with the shuttle was the main engines had to be pulled rebuilt and tested after every flight. The second was the location of the main fuel tank.

        The X37B has none of those problems. it sits atop of the main fuel tank, and only has maneuvering thrusters, no main engines that need to be repaired.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by 0123456 (636235)

          The wings weren't a problem for the shuttle.

          Both shuttle losses were fundamentally caused by the wings falling off. A capsule could have handled the g-forces imposed on Columbia or Challenger without breaking up, whereas a relatlvely small force was enough to break the wings off of the fuselage (not to mention separate the crew compartment from the payload bay), at which point the crew were doomed. A significant portion of the shuttle ascent trajectory design was based around making sure the wings didn't fall off even in nominal flight.

          The X37B has none of those problems. it sits atop of the main fuel tank, and only has maneuvering thrusters, no main engines that need to be repaired.

          And the wings

          • by khallow (566160)

            Both shuttle losses were fundamentally caused by the wings falling off.

            Funny thing to say given that neither failed for that reason. The first failed because there was burn through on a solid rocket motor. The second failed because of ice or foam strikes on the leading edge of a wing with no effort made to ascertain whether damage to the wing had occurred. Sure a wing fell off in the second case (but not in the first case!), but it's not the cause of failure.

        • by rmstar (114746)

          No the two main problems with the shuttle was the main engines had to be pulled rebuilt and tested after every flight.

          Well, if I have my rocketry basics right, that's almost inevitable. Getting a reasonable amount of thrust from a rocket engine invariably means subjecting it to strong thermal and mechanical stresses. There aren't currently any materials that can take that much abuse without wearing out fast.

          The wings and the fuse and all the rest were indeed a problem with the shuttle, because they amounted

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            The wings and the fuse and all the rest were indeed a problem with the shuttle, because they amounted to dead weight and reduced the lifting capacity by quite a bit.

            Wrong the body of the shuttle generates lift so it needs less fuel to reach orbit. After the shuttle launches it performs a roll maneuver. More of the engine power is used to achieve orbital velocity and not elevation. The body of the craft creates lift. This increases the amount of mass that the shuttle can send into orbit.
            http://stason.org/TULARC/science-engineering/space/53-Why-does-the-shuttle-roll-just-after-liftoff.html

            Second on reentry, the wings produce a hole in plasma that can be used to communica

        • The wings, as designed, were a poor choice.

          The shuttle was designed to land at the Van, which is further north then Florida. In order to reach that far north they had to go with a delta wing. This meant that the wings were heaver, the flight path was steeper, and the reentry was faster.

          And the shuttle never took off / landed there anyways. Sigh.

  • How likely is it that the Air Force already has this developed and is just bringing this out of the closet?

    • How likely is it that the Air Force already has this developed and is just bringing this out of the closet?

      Define 'develop'. If you mean "here's the spacecraft, can we launch it" - not very likely.

      If you mean "have some people play around with the blueprints and put some acceleration couches in it and type up a bunch of documentation" then, well, you have TFA. What the Air Force would really need is a justification for astronauts. Other than launching a few big Keyhole satellites and some Star Wars type laser tests, there isn't much for a pure AIr Force astronaut to do.

      • Ok, maybe they have to be internal bays, but surely there's a way we can mount guns/etc. on it!

        THEN it's pure AirForce! :)

        • by Jeng (926980)

          Yes, they could mount weapons in the internal bays, the question is what kind of weapons, I doubt conventional.

          One of the big benefits of this platform is that they can launch the twinkie, have the twinkie let loose a short term satellite, and then recover the satellite to bring back home. Excellent for short term surveillance that cannot be predicted.

    • What's the military use case for a manned orbiter? Not trying to be snarky, I just really can't think of one.

      • by Jeng (926980)

        Physical access to satellites.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          Physical access to satellites.

          Physical access to satellites in low orbit which don't have any kind of defence system and can't be moved out of the way when the other guy sees you heading toward them.

          A couple of claymores on the outside of the satellite would probably be enough to kill any approaching astronaut and do enough damage that the spacecraft could no longer re-enter.

          • by Jeng (926980)

            A couple of claymores on the outside of the satellite would probably be enough

            I rather doubt claymores are being attached to satellites. Now it is possible they have added some electronics to detect tampering, but even that is doubtful.

            • by 0123456 (636235)

              I rather doubt claymores are being attached to satellites.

              They will be if the USAF is sending astronauts up to grab them. Almaz had a 23mm cannon and I believe the USSR at least looked at arming their spy satellites when the USAF was talking about using the shuttle to capture them.

            • by Forbman (794277)

              And what would the claymore do to the satellite it's mounted on when it is set off? Hmm...

          • by tsotha (720379)

            Physical access to satellites in low orbit which don't have any kind of defence system and can't be moved out of the way when the other guy sees you heading toward them.

            Physical access to our satellites is a capability we don't have now that would be very nice to have, especially for the pricier models. Tampering with other peoples' satellites isn't a very useful mission - it's an act of war and something you wouldn't be able to hide very easily.

            • by luckymutt (996573)

              Tampering with other peoples' satellites isn't a very useful mission - it's an act of war and something you wouldn't be able to hide very easily.

              And so it would be a nice capability during a war that's already underway.

          • by eriqk (1902450)

            A couple of claymores on the outside of the satellite would probably be enough to kill any approaching astronaut and do enough damage that the spacecraft could no longer re-enter.

            Really. [wikipedia.org]

      • You didn't really think they needed a reason, did you?
    • by k6mfw (1182893)

      >How likely is it that the Air Force already has this developed and is just bringing this out of the closet?

      It is a common plot beginning with the 1969 movie "Marooned" and on through the Bruce Willis movie where him and his guys saved earth from a renegade asteroid. Both (and other movies) used same plot where NASA is in a pickle but the moment was saved because the USAF had a secret spaceship.

      In some ways this is not new, Air Force been working on manned space planes before most of you /. were bor

  • "Boeing knows its stuff on crew rating - its spaceflight pedigree stretches back to the Apollo moonshot capsules." Do they? All the folks that worked on Apollo and the Shuttle are probably long gone. Nobody in the U.S. has designed a new man-rated space vehicle in 30 years. Does anybody even know what it takes to man-rate a vehicle these days. Back in the day there was a can-do attitude about space travel and a willingness to accept certain risks. I'm not sure that's true anymore. I'm not trying to be fli
    • by 0123456 (636235)

      I know SpaceX is on the path, but they're a long way from completion.

      Is the shuttle man-rated? Because I don't see why SpaceX would have a hard time making the Dragon/Falcon 9 kill the crew less than one time in sixty.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Is the shuttle man-rated?

        Not by the standards given to SpaceX. It doesn't have an excape system.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @03:55PM (#37682884) Journal
    Basically, it is a can that is carried in the 'cargo bay'. With the shuttle, you had two different areas. This is actually a better design from a functional POV. One craft that can carry different types of cargo.
    • by jfengel (409917)

      One of the problems with the Shuttle was that it was conceived of as a "truck", with drivers shuttling cargo. The problem is that you really don't need drivers for cargo; astronauts really ARE just spam-in-a-can, as far as the carrier is concerned.

      Trying to carry both humans AND cargo made the design harder (and heavier) than it needed to be. A ship that carries one or the other makes both safer. This works very well for the Russians, who can just park whatever they want on top of a disposable rocket.

      • EXACTLY. This is why Falcon/Falcon Heavy/Dragon is an amazing efficient model. Fully reusable, and can be for cargo or humans, you just swap the top out with the rest down being the same (for the most part) lifter.

      • This works very well for the Russians, who can just park whatever they want on top of a disposable rocket.

        Not necessarily. [pbs.org]

        I tend to agree, though. Part of the issue with the Shuttle was that NASA was doing an accounting trick. The idea was that lots of companies want to put up satellites, so NASA would take them up for cheap and drop them off while we're up there. Since the Shuttle is going up anyway, if they can charge some money to defer the cost, that makes manned spaceflight cheaper.

  • This could become the SUSTAIN platform the USMC has asked for. Spacedrop a squad of Marines anywhere in the world within 40 minutes. The main question though is whether the crewed X37 will include commercial access or is this military only?

    • This could become the SUSTAIN platform the USMC has asked for. Spacedrop a squad of Marines anywhere in the world within 40 minutes. The main question though is whether the crewed X37 will include commercial access or is this military only?

      Sure. As long as your missions are limited to places with a 12000 foot runway that happens to be located right next to whatever the squad of Marines was supposed to invade / explode / save.

    • I love living in the future.

  • Space plane go... never come back!

  • This seems like a good carrot to dangle to keep NASA from giving missions to smaller companies like SpaceX.
  • by fantomas (94850) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:46PM (#37684806)

    Would be good to have the USA back in the list of countries capable of launching its own astronauts for sure, the more countries the merrier. Also would be great to see some of the private concerns in the USA successfully launching man-capable spacecraft.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why not just build more of them. If all you want to do is get people into space, you only need pilot plus one. Smaller rockets are easier, though more wasteful. However, a fleet is far more inspiring and will have far greater economies of scale than a handfull of expensive shuttles.

    Aim for a launch schedule of one per month. Get to it!

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