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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Boeing's X-37 robotic space shuttle ends maiden voyage

Posted by Brier Dudley
One of the coolest and most mysterious high-tech gadgets around has to be Boeing's X-37B rocket ship.
The robotic mini-space shuttle completed its first flight today after more than a decade of secretive development. Its landing came after more than 220 days in space on an "experimental test mission."
Boeing announced "the successful de-orbit and landing" but didn't say much else in a one-paragraph press release today.
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Here's the whole thing:
Boeing [NYSE: BA] today announced the successful de-orbit and landing of the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), also known as the X-37B, for the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO). The X-37B, shown here in a photo from before its launch, landed at 1:16 a.m. Pacific time today, concluding its more than 220-day experimental test mission. It was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on April 22.
Air Force officials involved in the project weren't sure how long the X-37 could stay in space, where it draws energy from folding solar panels, according to this Los Angeles Times story from April.
Boeing provided a few more details in a 2001 release, back when the X-37 was only intended to fly in space for up to three weeks. It said then that the vehicle would "serve as a test bed for 40 airframe, propulsion and operation technologies designed to make space transportation and operations significantly more affordable. Potential new commercial and military reusable space vehicle market applications for these technologies range from on-orbit satellite repair to the next-generation of totally reusable launch vehicles."
The 29-foot craft was then designed to have a 7-by-4-foot bay for conducting experiments. Its modular design was intended to "allow testing of both current and future technologies within the same vehicle, providing long-term cost savings."
Now we know what Charles Simonyi wants for Christmas.
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