Saturday, January 4, 2014

It's Official: X-37B to OPF1

Click the arrow to watch a September 2012 Florida Today report on the X-37B. Video source: Florida Today.

Florida Today reports that the worst kept secret at Kennedy Space Center is finally publicly acknowledged.

The X-37B is coming to OPF-1.

The Boeing X-37 began life as a NASA advanced technology research project. It was transferred in 2004 to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and was classified. The U.S. Air Force in 2006 decided to create its own version, known as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV).

A 1999 artist's concept of the X-37 as a NASA test vehicle. Image source: NASA.

Two spaceplanes, OTV-1 and OTV-2, were built and are currently stationed at Vandenberg AFB in Southern California, although they launch atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas V at Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 41. OTV-1 launched for the second time in December 2012 and is still in orbit.

Although not official just yet, it's expected that OTV-1 will land at KSC's former Shuttle runway and then be towed over to Orbiter Processing Facility 1 (OPF-1), one of three hangars originally built to service Shuttle orbiters.

OPF-1 technically is being leased to Space Florida, which will sublet the facility to Boeing which will service the vehicle for the Air Force. OPF-3 was leased to Space Florida in October 2011 so that Boeing could use it for their CST-100 commercial crew capsule. According to media reports, Boeing hopes to be operational in OPF-3 by the spring.

The lease of OPF-1 has been one of the worst kept secrets at the space center.

Florida Today reported in November 2011 that OPF-1 was being leased to an unnamed tenant. (I guessed, incorrectly, it might be Sierra Nevada for the Dream Chaser spaceplane.)

In July 2012, I wrote that the rumor-mill consensus was that OPF-1 was going to the X-37B. Florida Today wrote in September 2012 that it would be the X-37B.

So now the rumor mill can begin debating the fate of OPF-2. I'm still rooting for Dream Chaser. We know Sierra Nevada has been looking at various facilities around KSC, but nothing official. It would be cool to see Dream Chaser and X-37B parked side-by-side for a photo op.

The Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser — separated at birth from the X-37B? Image source: NASA.

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