Thursday, March 3, 2011

X-37B Ready to Launch

Aviation Week reports that the U.S. Air Force is ready to launch its second test of its orbital space plane.

Three months after the U.S. Air Force’s experimental Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) returned from a debut spaceflight that spanned 224 days, its sister ship is being prepared for liftoff March 4 on a follow-on mission.

Like its predecessor, OTV-2 will launch aboard an Atlas V booster from Cape Canaveral AFS. The 2-hr. launch window opens at 3:39 p.m. EST.

Exactly what the vehicle, also known as X-37B, will do in space is classified, as are any cargo or payloads that it may carry. The two spacecraft, built by Boeing Phantom Works, resemble diminutive space shuttles. They are intended to test technologies and processes for low-cost, quick-turnaround, reusable space vehicles, as well as serve as orbital testbeds for instruments that could be incorporated into future satellites.

So it's not the same craft that launched last year. My mistaken assumption.

The article also offers this critical analysis of the orbital space plane concept:

Still, not everyone is a fan of the OTVs. "Because of its weight and relative lack of maneuverability, the spaceplane is not well-suited for a number of missions," says Laura Grego of the Union of Concerned Scientists. For instance, due to extra structure to withstand repeated re-entries, the vehicle ostensibly would have a harder time carrying payloads to orbit, let alone maneuvering in space, rendezvousing with satellites, and releasing multiple payloads, she said March 2. "Yes, the spaceplane may offer more flexibility and is potentially reusable, but that comes at a very high price compared with the alternatives. We have not seen an analysis that shows why it is worth that high price."

UPDATE 10:00 AM ESTFlorida Today reports high winds may delay Friday's launch.

The weather forecast, however, calls for a 70 percent chance that gusty ground winds and/or thick, electrically charged clouds will force a launch delay. The weather for an attempt on Saturday improves slight -- there is only a 60 percent chance of a weather delay that day. But on Sunday, the percentage chance of a delay returns to 70 percent.

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