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Waspie_Dwarf

X-37B Space Plane Breaks Endurance Record

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US Air Force's Secretive X-37B Space Plane Shatters Orbital Endurance Record

The U.S. Air Force's robotic X-37B space plane has broken its own all-time endurance record in orbit after more than 470 days of circling the Earth on a mystery mission for the American military.

The X-37B space plane currently in orbit in flying the Orbital Test Vehicle 3 (OTV-3) mission, the third long-duration flight of the unmanned Air Force spaceflight program. The miniature space shuttle launched on Dec. 11, 2012 and is surpassed the record for longest X-37B spaceflight on Wednesday (March 26).

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Ah, is this the one that no one really knows what it's supposed to be doing, which means of course that it's a covert NSA surveillance asset?

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Ah, is this the one that no one really knows what it's supposed to be doing,

Yes.

which means of course that it's a covert NSA surveillance asset?

Almost certainly not.

Firstly the NRO are responsible for spy satellites NOT the NSA.

Secondly the X-37B's payload bay is far too small to carry any really useful surveillance assets.

Lastly the NRO are hardly likely to use an-ex NASA, publicly acknowledged programme if they really wanted to keep things secret.

The most likely thing that these missions are exploring is the capabilities of the vehicle itself.

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I take it this is the endurance record for re-usable space vehicles. I wonder what else they could possible be doing?

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I take it this is the endurance record for re-usable space vehicles.

Oh yes. The only other re-usable space vehicle, the shuttle, had an endurance record of just under 17 days and 16 hours.

I wonder what else they could possible be doing?

They are certainly testing the vehicle itself, pushing it on longer and longer missions. It was original announced as having a 270 day endurance, but clearly is capable of much longer missions. Boeing has plans for a larger version, the X-37C, which could carry larger (and therefore more useful) payloads, but even this will be too small for high resolution photo reconnaissance.

It is also possible that it is being used to test components for future satellites. However there is a very good argument against this. It would be cheaper to build a small prototype satellite, launch it as a small additional payload on, for example, a spy satellite launch. Test the components in space and allow the satellite to burn up when finished than it would to use the X-37B.

However I think that it is possible that it is testing new materials rather than components. By exposing them to the space environment and then returning them to Earth it will be possible to test how much the materials have deteriorated in a way that would not be possible in space.

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