The X-37’s uncertain fate

The X-37’s uncertain fate

Air Force Space Command boss Gen. William Shelton gave a space version of the talk that both the chief and secretary of the Air Force have given this week at the big trade show: Everything we do in the space world is basically essential, Shelton said. From missile launch monitoring to GPS to cyber-warfare, you really can’t cut very much without endangering or eliminating some of the planks upon which high-tech life today is built, he said.

A few things, though, might be open to discussion at budget crunch time, Shelton acknowledged. Maybe SpaceCom could broaden its use of equipment that piggy-backs on third-party commercial satellites, rather than needing a dedicated U.S. government bird — but that’s limited because of security worries. And maybe SpaceCom could get better at cyber-warfare acquisitions; it needs to get faster and more efficient to keep up with the rapidly changing cyber game out there. And maybe SpaceCom doesn’t need its much-discussed, little-known space jet, the X-37B.

Nobody knows exactly what the X-37 is for — though there are lots of good guesses — though Shelton said Tuesday that it’s a “niche capability,” and that at some point the Air Force might need to have a capital-D Discussion about its future. One reason officials apparently wanted it was to get the ability to put a small satellite in orbit on short notice, and the Air Force or DoD may decide that potential isn’t worth the cost.

“There are many ways to get a payload into orbit,” Shelton said, including military and commercial vehicles and the X-37. “It’s very flexible, in that you’ve got a payload bay in which you can launch, then it comes down, then you can launch it back – but whether or not it’s cost effective, is the question. Whether or not there’s overriding operational utility that would overcome some of the business case aspects of it, is another question. There’s some work to be done here on the long-term future of that capability, would you want to do, dedicated, hosted, X-37 — it’s one of these optimization questions really.”

Not quite the same as if Shelton had said, “I hate this thing so let’s get rid of it,” but compared to his other remarks about the importance of the Space Command portfolio, it was telling that he appeared welling to at least discuss it.


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Stupid. Absolutely stupid. The uses for the X-37 are endless and it would be an enormous waste to get rid of such a spacecraft. The Chinese would no doubt be applauding this, because it would be one of the biggest potential threats in space due to it’s flexibility to do many different missions.

The idea of the X-37 is great. With supposed abilities of delivering satellites into orbit and capturing older satellites to refuel them its tough to argue against it. But with the real potential of delivering telephone pole sized rods of tungsten into space its hard to imagine what the Air Force really wants if its willing to sacrifice such a strategic weapon. The X-37 and the HTV are being developed simultaneously much like USS Freedom and USS Independence. Its a competition between two programs to create the next generation quick reaction conventional strategic weapons replacing the aging Strategic Triad doctrine.

One thing that the military could spare is the missile defense system. There are no current threats that it defends against (don’t go on about China and Russia — they are both big trade partners and they need us) and none on the near horizon.

Its a madness to think that Russia and China are partners, China kill the industry all over the world and after that, they want to dominate sky, cyber and space and they have a spaceplane program int the black. People must understand that China is a menace, and its not a dream. X-37b is a very good program and strategic utility for Usaf. Go straight Usaf with X-37B.

This is a Boeing program, just like the Tanker and if you are a US Senator and wish to remain a US Senator, with the power Boeing has in Washington D.C, you don’t mess with them. They tried to hoodwink the DoD in 2003 on the Tanker, stole and wasted over $200 Billion on FCS, collecting their 15% fee guaranteed, stole programs based on a crooked CFO and DoD procurement officer and now you dare touch their X-37, yeah, right.

The X-37 has been doing a great job, is a great platform, and despite the propaganda about losing trajectory off the west coast in the last “news’ of the bird, I’ll bet anyone a $100 to a doughnut that that is what I saw land at Ellington about three weeks ago — at night, moving mach++ to landing speed in no time, and nav lights were peach and green. Keep that bird flying!

when (not IF) the time comes, Russia and China will be “friends” — in that “an enemy of my enemy is my friend”

What about the North Korean and (developing) Iranian missiles?

What about where those systems will be five years from now. Or ten years from now?

Please provide some documentation on how much was actually paid for FCS.

Yes, it was awarded as a huge program but most of it was cancelled before the money was spent

Sorry WarPony, meant to give a thumbs up

Remember the old saying that ‘states don’t have friends; states have interests’.

North Korea will be a far different place in five years — they have been teetering on the edge of collapse for years and have not been a real threat for decades. Any missiles they have will be thin skinned systems launched from surface pads, easy to take out with cruise missiles. They might get off a single shot but would it get as far as Japan? Iran is also teetering on collapse, they could totter along for years but still are a minor threat. Any missiles they fired towards us would have to overfly many neighbors and enemies — would they commit suicide just to shoot a single missile at us? The US is a HUGE country and a missile would be a tragedy like the World Trade Center attack — but that did not seriously damage our economy, military, etc. It just made us angry.
It is as easy to take out most threats with cruise missiles — on their launch pads. Our anti-missile system is of dubious effectiveness.

Mr Sidius — what is your native language?

My first language is french, and China damage our economy and have kill our industry in Europe and particulary in France , there is a lot of unemployed and we are near the recession because a lot of industry go in China and now its a social disaster. Don’t make the same mistake in US stay the better high tech country in the world and continue devellop plane like X-37 and other high tech weapon because China is not a friend.

My bad — it was the HTV that was “allegedly” lost over the pacific. But, my bet is still on about the X-37 :)

Its the perfect deployable, encryption upgrade ready, maneuvering communication and gps satellite.

It still needs a launch vehicle to get to orbit so it makes it only slightly better than a glorified satellite unfortunately.

Nothing signals decline then the resort to “wonder weapons”. You know nobody can work out what they are good for but they are sure to save us.

So it’s no surprise that the X-37 will be cut. As soon as the tanks start talking about special unique capabilities you can bet they are on a loser.

Name it something other than X-(37) , that number is nothing but trouble, but if its trouble your living for than
just put a 2 in front of 37 , and you’ll get all the trouble you can handle.….„„

It’s amazing that a few readers say the X-37 is doing a good job. Do you know something that the rest of us do not? If so, how about telling the folk up in the Congress? They are the ones with the money and the power to make things happen. Oh, maybe they don’t all have high enough clearances to be briefed on the real missions of the bird and the success/failures to date.

Wow…Charles you’re way behind the curve here. “a tragedy like the (WTC)?” Hardly. A single EMP weapon detonated in space over the US could take down out commo grid and our power grid, along with most our computers in both vehicles and industrial use. Taht would result in the deaths of millions, mostly from starvation. If done in the middle of summer or dead of winter the toll would be even higher from weather-related factors. The only defense we have against this at the moment is the ABL out of Edwards AFB that can roast a missile on the boost phase, IF (big “if”) it is strategically located at the time. Thank you, demoncraps, for killing off the SDI. Had Reagan had his way, lunatic regime missiles wouldn’t even be an issue anymore. We’d be shielded. But insteand that money was spent on “foreign aide” to such lunatice regimes. Like gun control, it worked well, didn’t it? Throwing money at bad people doesn’t make them good people nor does it make them like you.

Always — wow, you paint such a grim picture. Respectfully, it is far overstated. From my 28 years in the AF and the space business, and my degrees and personal interest…
The Airborne Laser Laboratory is a laboratory and is not operational. It is a nice technology but is certainly not something that we could count on to stop a missile in the boost phase. And if we are worried about missiles from Iran and North Korea, why isn’t that aircraft deployed today to stop these missiles? Because it is unproven technology AND the missiles might be ready to fire in several years. Even then, they are not gonna reach the US at all.
A single EMP weapon would cause millions of deaths in the US?? After we have spent years insulating our systems against just such a weapon? This alone makes me question your qualifications to talk about nuclear weapons. An EMP explosion is not easy to arrange.
When was SDI killed off again? Didn’t it morph into the Missile Defense Agency?? Isn’t that technology still around and being developed?? Isn’t that the ABL, interceptors in Alaska and soon Vandenburg, Ca???
Think about changing your name to Always Confused, and try to ease off of whatever you are on. I am trying hard to be polite but your answer is riddled with mistakes.

WarPony — I also live near Ellington ANGB (now Ellington International or whatever, according to the City of Houston) and the X-37b has never been anywhere near Ellington, and never will come near that location. You say it was traveling at supersonic speed at night?? There have been no sonic booms here for several years, not since the Tx ANG F-16s were moved away.

And the X-37b flies WAY too low to be a communications (mostly those are at geosynch altitudes) or GPS satellite.

And with Boeing’s luck in the launch vehicle sector; that makes me uncomfortable!

The X-37 makes me think of the F-5; an undersized, undercapable platform built by a contractor as a love letter to a faction in the DoD that confused what it wanted with what was needed.

North Korea has been “teetering on the edge of collapse” for almost as long as Cuba.

Perhaps our perception of “teetering on the edge of collapse” just does not fit the N. Korean or Cuban model. Lets see, what kind of things here in the US trigger massive civil unrest… and what have the N. Korean and Cuban people endured without that massive uprising that would topple the government? Hmmmmm. .…

Density — so do you lay awake at night, worrying about the coming invasion from Cuba? The invasion we have seen is desperate refugees. Both can teeter as long as they want, they are not a real threat to the US. I will worry about actual threats.

Density — ask the Swiss how undercapable the aircraft is. They are still flying them. But those Swiss will accept anything — they are just some banana republic in the Alps???

What is the story about this landing? What you saw landing at Ellington?

I am sooo surprised that we don’t have a vehicle to replace the Shuttles.…Leaving us naked and at the hands of our commy freinds to get us to the space station and back. How manyexplosions have the RUSSIAN Rockets have blown up recently? Hanging on by a thread…The latest return from the station to earth was lost…no radio contact as it entered the atmosphere until it splashed down. They thought that they had a catastrophie on their hands.…Luckily, they didn’t…Next time? We need to get our butts back in gear and reclaim our destiny or the Chinese will take it away from us!!!

I think that you are perhaps forgetting a lot of history.… The Russians have lost far fewer cosmonauts than we have lost astronauts, and I believe that they have launched and landed far more times. The main engines on the two current US space boosters (Atlas II — RD-180s, and Delta III — RS-27A ) both have a direct ancestoral line back to the Russian kerosene/oxygen engines that have been pushing things into space since the 60s. The Boeing led SeaLaunch partnership actually fired Russian boosters off of a converted oil platform.

The Chinese may take the space leadership, but thanks to our blind focus on the badly mis-represented Shuttle, it very sadly wont be from us.

For the specific Swiss interceptor mission, an F-5 works pretty good, but… please dont forget those “Freedom Fighters” are backed up by Hornets! LOL!

And I suspect that your definition of a threat would not involve twenty odd foreign aviation school students and airliners? Once upon a time we had a nice dependable and easily described threat, it was the horde of Soviet and Warsaw Pact motorized rifle and tank divisions on the German frontier. Well, Dorothy…. er…. Charles, this aint Kansas (nor the Fulda Gap) no more!

North Korea was totally not a threat because they didn’t have nukes and they never would, and they didn’t have rockets and they never would.

Then they didn’t have functioning nukes and never would, and they didn’t have functioning rockets and they never would.

Then they didn’t have reliable nukes and they never would, and they didn’t have reliable rockets and they never would.

How long are we going to rely on “never would”?

The recent NK tests have shown very unreliable rockets, and the reports I have seen say that their nukes are of dubious value. They can torpedo SK ships but do you think that they threaten the US territory????

Did the Cubans or North Koreans do that?? I thought it was our allies, the Saudis. Hmmm. Bin Laden was a what, a Saudi??

I posted this in your linked X-37 article from March. I think it is more appropriate here:

The X-37 is a cover.

It was launched by a 501 version Atlas CentaurV. That version is designed for launching satellites into geosynchronus transfer orbit, not low earth orbit. The 502 version (two engines for the Centaur stage) can lift 22,700 pounds into LEO. The X-37 weighs 11,000 pounds. Why use a launch vehicle with twice the lifting capacity and why use a GTO vehicle, unless there is an additional payload other than the X-37 destined for a higher orbit?

A Harvard astronomer was quoted in the NY Times that he observed the upper stage in orbit around the sun. It is likely that the upper stage continued into GTO with a second payload. Slick move!

There has been concern, recently, of other nations launching weaponized satellites to the vicinity of our geosynchronus satellites. It is far easier to find and observe them silhouetted against a bright earth — that is from a slightly higher altitude. My guess is the extra mass lofted was for inspection and/or delousing.

Another comment

The similarity of the X-37 to the Space Shuttle is visual only. It weighs 11,000 pounds vs 240,000 for the shuttle. Its payload bay is a dinky 7 feet by 4 feet, the size of a human if he doesn’t play in the NBA. It is doubtful its payload exceeds 500 pounds. It is not stealthy so it won’t be messing with other nations’s satellites undetected.

corkboyd — interesting you say it was a 501 and use the figures from the 502 to use in your theory. what’s the capacity of the 501 actually used?

Definite “booms” on O’s last visit, and OK mabey it was the HVI or II?

How about sat recovery, or maybe transporting “dexters” for repair missions? And, who’s to say, (as corkboyd points out) they aren’t so much cover for another payload? The X-37 keeps McD with business — good for jobs; doesn’t allow Lockheed Martin-built HTV-2 (my bad on trajectory, when I should have said telemetry) to assume a monopoly position for next-generation, multi-role, quick-response, 3D theater observer — not to mention the number of upgrades it or the HTV might assume. Moving a sat takes time – launching one to the next zone presents a tactical advantage. Sorry, don’t have contacts on the hill – not a shill.

In any event, I’d be interested to know what you know about the X-37 not doing a good job.

I’m sure the Japanese sleep very comfortably at night because they know that the North Korean rockets can’t reach CONUS.

An Atlas 501 — the “zero” implies no strap-on boosters — is entirely appropriate for launching payloads into LEO.

Besides that, it would be extremely obvious that a 2-stage Centaur was being used. It’s a longer upper stage that requires more fuel than the standard version (and that’s leaving aside the fact that none has ever actually been built.)

The underlying problem is that today in an era of “asymmetrical warfare” you cant always pick out the biggest threat by virtue of its order of battle. Poor, under-equipped nation states, and non-nation states can be at least as much of a threat, if determined and committed to a cause but with all of its cards face down, as any 1st tier military, with all of its weapons on display.

Bin Laden was born a Saudi but he was a stateless wanted man in his homeland. The fact that he managed to move to the top of so many “most wanted” lists shows the power of that non-nation state threat.

Density Duck,I had written an article on the X-37B back in May 2009, when Wikipedia listed both the 501 and 502 versions of the Atlas V.  The 501 uses the the single engine Centaur (SEC) second stage and the 502 the dual engine Centaur(DEC) second stage.  The 502 can lift considerably more into LEO than the 501, 22,700 vs. 17,900 lbs.  You are correct that the 501 is capable of launching into LEO.  Since I wrote my article and my post, I find the 502 hasn’t been used.  But there is still the question of why the upper stage made it beyond LEO according to Jonathan McDowell of Harvard.http://​www​.nytimes​.com/​2​0​1​0​/​0​5​/​2​3​/​s​c​i​e​n​c​e​/​s​p​a​c​e​/​2​3​s​e​c​r​e​t​.​h​t​m​l​?​p​a​g​e​w​a​n​t​e​d​=​2​&​a​m​p​;​s​q​=​x​3​7​&​a​m​p​;​s​t​=​c​s​e​&​a​m​p​;​s​c​p​=​1It is the very secrecy of this mission that doesn’t make sense.  The X-37 was an unclassified project until a few years ago.  Suddenly it’s a black project.  There have been several articles (one in Av Week, can’t remember when) on non-US stealth satellites and the need to find and inspect them.  The main concern was the planting of them near our assets and threatening them.  That’s what my post was all about.Thanks for your interest.Corky Boyd

It could be one of our best defense ever. On the other hand GPS defense guided missiles is outdated in China, Russia and North Korea. They have the gps jammers.

LOL! I suspect that quite a few of the legislators have had all of the “real” info presented them (or were offered but refused to sit in the briefings). As with most of the posters here, not knowing the facts means that they can take whatever position they want (or that is the most politically expedient).

The thing is nothing but a truck. The rocket is already a truck, with it or without it.

Its the future of all satellites, today.

That would be less of a problem than the plume from Fukishima was.

Iran is planning to send battleships on our shore. I think they are planning to attack us. We need to beef up our defenses. We need all the tools we have to defend our people and country.

You retard… we have the largest navy in the world, and it is much larger than the rest of the world combined, unless you are a Brit, or something, We have already beefed up our defense after a little thing called World War II after the British ceded all of their naval bases to the United States.

Its already been built. Just reserve it, maintain it for future emergency needs.

I count about 40 X-37b. All loaded with nukes for the first strike ability. I’ve Watch them launch of from cape canaveral. ” top secret” sattelite. Hope our enemys are as lame. Why would a Atlas 5 launch a ity bitty sattelite. Something Big should happen by the weekend. God speed Mr John Glenn you were right!!!! the truth is out there

F22 is too expensive so they cancel it after 1/3 of its order is completed. No problem, they say we have the F35 instead, which is like replacing the F15 with F16. If the F35 even becomes operational before they cancel it also. Retire the space shuttle before we have a replacement, then design and build Ares, launch it once and cancel it too. The C17 was designed, cancelled, redesigned and cancelled again by every new congress. The B1 was the same. Had the B2 not been so thoroughly “black” I doubt it would have ever flown. If we could just spend the research money once and go to production, maybe we would have enough money left over to actually become operational. X37 is just one more in a long line.

Here Am I.… Kilroy was here.

Yes, it is just a truck. http://​www​.slovak​-translator​.com/​c​o​n​t​a​c​t​.​h​tml

It is obvious what you represent..Is that a done I see ? I.….….….….….….….….….….….……

and trying to find those suckers is next to impossible! Space based Missle offensive reloads will be delivered within the hour!


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