Tag Archives: Air Force

X-37 B secret US Air Force space plane

Highly secretive unmanned Air Force spacecraft launches into orbit

X-37 B secret US Air Force space plane

Yesterday morning, the U.S. Air Force launched its X-37B robotic space plane into orbit via an Atlas 5 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This is the spacecraft’s third launch since 2010, however very little is known about X-37B itself and more importantly about its mission. Officials claim that its goal is scientific, however it’s rather clear than the Air Force has a secret agenda of its own.

First launched in 2010, the solar- and battery-powered X-37B orbited Earth for 224 days. On its second launch, it stayed aloft for 469 days, before it touched down on autopilot at a specially prepared runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Both for previous missions and its current one, the X-37B carried a secret payload in its pickup truck-sized cargo bay. The whole operation has been totally classified to the public, which has garnered a lot of international criticism, especially from China which on numerous occasions accused the US of carrying spy sensors or equipment for hacking satellites. Actually, the Chinese government announced they’ll be building a space plane of its own.

X-37 B secret US Air Force space plane

Some 18 months ago, NASA retired its manned shuttle program indefinitely. The shuttle weighed 120 tonnes, while the  Boeing Government Space Systems built space plane only weighs six tones. A reusable spacecraft that isn’t meant for carrying people, cargo for the International Space Station or deploying satellites in space is obviously very suspicious. Still, the Air Force maintains that the space plane is exclusively meant for deploying science experiments in space.

“Take a payload up, spend up to 270 days on orbit,” is how Gary Payton, Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs, explained the X-37′s mission. “They’ll run experiments to see if the new technology works, then bring it all back home and inspect it to see what was really going on in space.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a Massachusetts-based think tank, recently issued a statement in which it voiced its … concern.

“Because it is an Air Force project and details about it are classified, and because it does not have a clear mission compared to simpler systems, this project has generated confusion, speculation and in some cases concern about its purpose.”

“The ability to return to Earth carries a high cost,” according to the think tank’s fact sheet. “Many missions in space do not require bringing a spacecraft back to Earth, and the space plane makes no sense for those. And even in cases when return does make sense, a spacecraft can land using a parachute rather than wings and landing gear.”

The  29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 15 feet (4.5 m) wide space plane is currently under the jurisdiction of the  U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, tasked with expediting the development and fielding of select Department of Defense combat support and weapon systems by leveraging defense-wide technology development efforts and existing operational capabilities.

via Wired

Air Force Blue Horizons

The U.S. Air Force’s “Welcome to 2035… the Age of Suprise” [VIDEO]

In 1996, hundreds of US Air Force specialists, scientists and affiliates established an extensive study called Air Force 2025, in which the emerging technologies that will shape the battlefield in the next 25 years were outlined. The study went pretty well, since it was continued with Blue Horizons in 2007, in the same lines, which eventually transformed into a series of annual long range vision studies.

Air Force Blue HorizonsThe studies themselves are extremely interesting, and the forward vision of the Air Force is remarkably impressive, as it discusses both threats (with an apparent emphasis on cyber war) and how the innovative tradition and resources of the Air Force can benefit the civilian populace at peace time. Similarly, the Air Force also released Energy Horizons, a vision study which  measures the institution’s plans to meet in order to reach its energy goals, reduce demand and change military culture in sight of rapidly developing missions.

Now, the studies themselves, which are publicly available, make for an interesting lecture, especially for those of you passionate about military technology and security; however, something else caught my attention. Apparently, the Air Force produced a short, fast paced, action thriller …heck I don’t even know what to call it , and released it on the web via YouTube.

The video itself, a spin-off from the Blue Horizons missions and titled “Welcome to 2035… the Age of Surprise”, is exactly the panicking sort of production you’d expect NOT to see from behalf of a governmental institution. Now, I won’t go down to how all the typical Hollywood dime a dozen action movie trailer elements are present here, from low attention span graphics to bombastic bylines to cheap national pride inserts. It’s the actual message, white on black, that’s conveyed and is of particular interest to me. Here it is, since the Air Force believes spelling it as fitter.

“We can predict broad outlines, but we don’t know the ramifications,” the video says. “Information travels everywhere; anyone can access everything — the collective intelligence of humanity drives innovation in every direction while enabling new threats from super-empowered individuals with new domains, interconnecting faster than ever before. Unlimited combinations create unforeseen consequences.”

There you have it folks. A take-down justification of the Air Force’s budget to the American public, complete with iPhones, iPads, iTerrorists and of course face facebook and youtube. Enough of me, discuss.

 

via Kurzweil

This solar power satellite design features sets of lightweight, inflatable fresnel reflectors to focus the Sun's energy on small arrays of high-efficiency photovoltaic cells. (c) NASA

Air Force plans buildings a solar power station in space and nuclear-powered spacecraft

Last week, the U.S. Air Force released a report in which it outlines its technological and energy plans for the forthcoming 15 years. Among others, the Air Force means to deploy a space-based solar power station, which would serve energy wirelessly to both Earth and space satellites, as well as a new generation of spacecraft powered by small nuclear reactors.

This solar power satellite design features sets of lightweight, inflatable fresnel reflectors to focus the Sun's energy on small arrays of high-efficiency photovoltaic cells. (c) NASA

This solar power satellite design features sets of lightweight, inflatable fresnel reflectors to focus the Sun’s energy on small arrays of high-efficiency photovoltaic cells. (c) NASA

The 72-page long report, titled “Energy Horizons: United States Air Force Energy S&T Vision 2011-2026”, can be read in its entirety for thus curious enough here. It discusses measures the institution plans to meet in order to reach its energy goals, reduce demand and change military culture in sight of rapidly developing missions.

“Energy is a center of gravity in war and an assured energy advantage can enable victory,” said Mark Maybury, chief scientist for the United States Air Force. He spearheaded the report.

“While energy is already an essential enabler,” Maybury said. “Global competition, environmental objectives and economic imperatives will only increase its importance.”

Of great interest, is a solar-based power station, which would harness solar energy and then beam it to Earth using lasers. The technology necessary to effectively transfer energy between space and Earth isn’t available at the moment, however, so my guess is the Air Force has in mind distributing it towards satellites, whether they belong to the Air Force, NASA or other national security agencies. Air Force is currently limited to 27 kilowatt (kW) arrays for satellite power. In the future, it intends to massively increase its space energy array, which would also allow them to build smaller spacecraft, as they wouldn’t need to generate power for themselves. Also, sensors, communications equipment and on-board processing devices generally require a lot of energy, and if you want to have a very powerful satellite,  destined for space-based radar or space-based laser missions, you need to provide it somehow. It would all be wireless transmitted from the neighboring space power station.

Nuclear-powered spacecraft

When nuclear energy is concerned, there are already some satellites powered by Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG), which provide steady and reliable power, at a much greater output than other technologies currently in place. However, the Air Force wants to take it up a notch and employ satellites powered by small nuclear reactors. We’ve discussed about nuclear fission power plants, small enough to fit in a briefcase, in one of our past posts – I’m guessing the Air Force is going for something similar. Of course, safety is a major concern, as outlined in the report.

“While the implementation of such a technology should be weighed heavily against potential catastrophic outcomes, many investments into small modular reactors can be leveraged for space-based systems. As these nuclear power plants decrease in size, their utility on board space-based assets increases.”

All of these prospects sound very interesting, one which might lead to impressive advancements of civilian applications, but one can only stand skeptical in the face of idea emitted by an agency of offense defense.

story via space.com