U.S. spy plane returns to Earth, China is building rival

June 17, 2012SPACE TECHThe second copy of the Air Force’s X-37B robotic space plane landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California early Saturday morning, ending a record-breaking 469-day orbital mission that began atop an Atlas rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on March 5, 2011. The safe landing of Orbital Test Vehicle 2 after more than 15 months in space is an indisputable triumph for the U.S. military and space industry. Much less certain is the X-37′s future. Budget cuts, labor woes and the looming specter of a Chinese rival could blunt the diminutive robo-shuttle’s orbital edge. The Boeing-built X-37B, in development since the 1990s, was designed to operate nine months at a time between refueling and refurbishment. But with just two copies of the roughly billion-dollar space plane in the inventory, the Air Force wanted to get as much mileage as possible out of each. After OTV-1′s proof-of-concept flight from April to December 2010, OTV-2′s mission became an endurance test. “One of the goals of this mission was to see how much farther we could push the on-orbit duration,” said Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, the Air Force’s X-37B program manager. Meanwhile, the U.S. mini-shuttle could soon have competition. China is developing its own space plane called Shenlong — and apparently test-flew it for the first time in January last year. “Beijing may be entering the spaceplane era faster than many would have predicted,” warns Andrew Erickson, a Naval War College analyst. Currently the Air Force plans to launch OTV-1 on its second mission this fall, with OTV-2 possibly to follow on its own sophomore launch sometime next year. If the Air Force continues improving the X-37′s performance, these coming missions could be even more amazing than the just-completed record-breaker. But that’s assuming the money keeps flowing. –Wired
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4 Responses to U.S. spy plane returns to Earth, China is building rival

  1. Irene C says:

    China is bulding a rival??? Well, Duh. They fired a missle off of our west coast. Oh wait … that was a contrail or something. (Sorry for the touch of sarcism. It’s late at night here.) Oh, and while they’re spending money on national defense (offense?), we’re cutting ours. Go figure.


    • jehjeh007 says:

      Last I checked, they own 68 cents of every US dollar, so yeah I think your sarcism in well justified though not provable at least by me. Kudos for saying it. I like food for thought.


  2. Irene C says:

    This got my attention this morning.


    Depth 8.5 km (5.3 miles)
    5 km (3 miles) WNW (295°) from Tiptonville, TN
    13 km (8 miles) E (91°) from Hayward, MO
    15 km (10 miles) W (276°) from Samburg, TN
    148 km (92 miles) NNE (16°) from Memphis, TN
    256 km (159 miles) SSE (165°) from St. Louis, MO


    • jehjeh007 says:

      Concerning because that area is not under drought conditions but Tennessee is. Can you say Frac? Follow the money…


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