Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Second Helping for X-37B

The Boeing X-37B at Vandenberg Air Force Base in December 2010. Image source: Wikipedia.

On January 3, Space Florida announced that Boeing had leased a former Space Shuttle orbiter hangar for the X-37B, an experimental robotic spaceplane the company flies on behalf of the U.S. Air Force.

The Orbiter Processing Facility had three hangars. Space Florida leased OPF-1 from NASA so it could be sublet to Boeing, but the fate of the neighboring OPF-2 was unclear. Unofficial sources said Boeing was going to use OPF-2 as well, but nothing official was confirmed.

Until now.

NASA issued this press release today:

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Air Force's X-37B Program for use of the center’s Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) Bays 1 and 2 to process the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle for launch.

The OPF bays were last used during NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. With the agency’s transition to the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, the agency currently does not have a mission requirement for the facilities. This agreement ensures the facilities will again be used for their originally-intended purpose — processing spacecraft.

“Kennedy is positioning itself for the future, transitioning to a multi-user launch facility for both commercial and government customers, while embarking on NASA's new deep space exploration plans,” said Kennedy Center Director Robert Cabana. “A dynamic infrastructure is taking shape, designed to host many kinds of spacecraft and rockets.”

In addition to vehicle preparation for launch, the X-37B Program conducted testing at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility to demonstrate that landing the vehicle at the former shuttle runway is a technically feasible option.

The Boeing Company is performing construction upgrades in the OPFs on behalf of the X-37B Program. These upgrades are targeted to be complete in December.

Parsing the press release, it seems to state the deal is between NASA and the U.S. Air Force, not Boeing.

There's no mention of Space Florida involvement in the press release, nor on the Space Florida web site.

Space Florida also leased OPF-3 in October 2011 so Boeing could modify it for their CST-100 commercial crew vehicle. Now that Boeing has won a commercial crew contract from NASA, it's expected that Boeing activities will pick up at that hangar.

Boeing has two X-37Bs, one of which has been in orbit since December 2012. If and when it lands, that's scheduled to be at Kennedy Space Center's former Shuttle runway. In the past, the X-37B landed at Vandenberg AFB in southern California.

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