Tag Archives: X-37B

5th OTV mission

The 45th Space Wing successfully launched a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle September 7, 2017, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.

In a testing procedure, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxis on the flightline in June 2009 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California (Courtesy photo)
In a testing procedure, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxis on the flightline in June 2009 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California (Courtesy photo)

Approximately eight minutes after the launch, SpaceX successfully landed the Falcon 9 first-stage booster at Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Brigadier General Wayne Monteith, the 45th SW commander, thanked the entire Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5) mission team for their efforts in ensuring a successful launch.

«I’m incredibly proud of the 45th Space Wing’s contributions to the X-37B program», Monteith said. «This marks the fifth successful launch of the OTV and its first onboard a Falcon 9. A strong relationship with our mission partners, such as the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, is vital toward maintaining the Eastern Range as the world’s premiere gateway to space».

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is led by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), with operations overseen by Air Force Space Command’s 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron. The OTV is designed to demonstrate reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operate experiments, which can be returned to and examined on Earth.

 

General Characteristics

Primary Mission Experimental test vehicle
Prime Contractor Boeing
Height 9 feet, 6 inches/2.9 meters
Length 29 feet, 3 inches/8.9 meters
Wingspan 14 feet, 11 inches/4.5 meters
Launch Weight 11,000 pounds/4,990 kilograms
Power Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries
Launch Vehicle United Launch Alliance Atlas V (501)

 

X-37B lands

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 (OTV-4), the Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane, landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017.

The Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 lands at NASA 's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility, Florida, May 7, 2017 (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)
The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 lands at NASA ‘s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility, Florida, May 7, 2017 (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

«Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing as we continue to break barriers», said Brigadier General Wayne Monteith, the 45th SW commander. «Our team has been preparing for this event for several years, and I am extremely proud to see our hard work and dedication culminate in today’s safe and successful landing of the X-37B».

The OTV-4 conducted on-orbit experiments for 718 days during its mission, extending the total number of days spent on-orbit for the OTV program to 2,085 days.

«The landing of OTV-4 marks another success for the X-37B program and the nation», said Lieutenant Colonel Ron Fehlen, X-37B program manager. «This mission once again set an on-orbit endurance record and marks the vehicle’s first landing in the state of Florida. We are incredibly pleased with the performance of the space vehicle and are excited about the data gathered to support the scientific and space communities. We are extremely proud of the dedication and hard work by the entire team».

The X-37B is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft. Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.

«The hard work of the X-37B OTV team and the 45th Space Wing successfully demonstrated the flexibility and resolve necessary to continue the nation’s advancement in space», said Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. «The ability to land, refurbish, and launch from the same location further enhances the OTV’s ability to rapidly integrate and qualify new space technologies».

The Air Force is preparing to launch the fifth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, later in 2017.

Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft that performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)
Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft that performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

 

General Characteristics

Primary Mission Experimental test vehicle
Prime Contractor Boeing
Height 9 feet, 6 inches/2.9 meters
Length 29 feet, 3 inches/8.9 meters
Wingspan 14 feet, 11 inches/4.5 meters
Launch Weight 11,000 pounds/4,990 kilograms
Power Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries
Launch Vehicle United Launch Alliance Atlas V (501)

 

Orbital Test Vehicle

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the Air Force Space Command 5 (AFSPC-5) satellite for the U.S. Air Force at 11:05 a.m. EDT on May 20, 2015 from Space Launch Complex-41. The rocket carried the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle or OTV, a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the AFSPC-5 satellite for the U.S. Air Force from Space Launch Complex-41. This is ULA’s fifth launch in 2015 and the 96th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the AFSPC-5 satellite for the U.S. Air Force from Space Launch Complex-41. This is ULA’s fifth launch in 2015 and the 96th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006

«ULA is honored to launch this unique spacecraft for the U.S Air Force. Congratulations to the Air Force and all of our mission partners on today’s successful launch! The seamless integration between the Air Force, Boeing, and the entire mission team culminated in today’s successful launch of the Atlas V AFSPC-5 mission», said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs.

This Atlas V mission also includes the Aft Bulkhead Carrier (ABC) carrying the National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO’s) Ultra Lightweight Technology and Research Auxiliary Satellite (ULTRASat). ULTRASat is composed of 10 CubeSats managed by the NRO and NASA. «The ABC contained 8 P-Pods that released 10 CubeSats that were successfully delivered. The CubeSats were developed by the U.S Naval Academy, the Aerospace Corporation, Air Force Research Laboratory, The Planetary Society and California Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo to conduct various on orbit experiments», said Sponnick.

This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V 501 configuration Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), which includes a 5.4-meter-diameter payload fairing. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine, and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine. This was ULA’s sixth launch of the 501 configuration, and ULA’s 54th mission to launch on an Atlas V rocket.

ULA’s next launch is the Atlas V GPS IIF-10 mission for the U. S. Air Force, scheduled for July 15 from Space Launch Complex-41 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The EELV program was established by the United States Air Force to provide assured access to space for Department of Defense and other government payloads. The commercially developed EELV program supports the full range of government mission requirements, while delivering on schedule and providing significant cost savings over the heritage launch systems.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 90 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.

ULA has successfully delivered more than 90 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the fi eld, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system
ULA has successfully delivered more than 90 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the fi eld, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system

 

X-37B

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments, which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft. Based on NASA’s X-37 design, the unmanned OTV is designed for vertical launch to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) altitudes where it can perform long duration space technology experimentation and testing. Upon command from the ground, the OTV autonomously re-enters the atmosphere, descends and lands horizontally on a runway. The X-37B is the first vehicle since NASA’s shuttle orbiter with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis, however the X-37B can stay in space for much longer.

Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, and autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing.

The Atlas V vehicle will also launch an Aft Bulkhead Carrier (ABC) containing eight P-Pods will release 10 CubeSats. Following primary spacecraft separation the Centaur will change altitude and inclination in order to release the CubeSat spacecraft, which are sponsored by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The ten CubeSats were developed by the U.S. Naval Academy, the Aerospace Corporation, the Air Force Research Laboratory, California Polytechnic State University, and Planetary Society.

The Air Force's AFSPC-5 payload, encapsulated inside a 5-meter diameter payload fairing, is mated to an Atlas V booster inside the Vertical Integration Facility or VIF at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex-41
The Air Force’s AFSPC-5 payload, encapsulated inside a 5-meter diameter payload fairing, is mated to an Atlas V booster inside the Vertical Integration Facility or VIF at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41

 

Payload Fairing (PLF)

The AFSPC-5 satellite is encapsulated in a 5-m (14-feet) diameter medium payload fairing. The 5-m PLF is a sandwich composite structure made with a vented aluminum-honeycomb core and graphite-epoxy face sheets. The bisector (two-piece shell) PLF encapsulates both the Centaur and the satellite. The vehicle’s height with the 5-m medium PLF is approximately 63 m/206 feet.

In preparation for launch, an Atlas V rocket, with the Air Force's AFSPC-5 mission, is rolled from the Vertical Integration Facility or VIF to the pad at Space Launch Complex-41
In preparation for launch, an Atlas V rocket, with the Air Force’s AFSPC-5 mission, is rolled from the Vertical Integration Facility or VIF to the pad at Space Launch Complex-41

 

Centaur

The Centaur second stage is 3 m/10 feet in diameter and 12.65 m/41.5 feet in length. Its propellant tanks are constructed of pressure-stabilized, corrosion resistant stainless steel. Centaur is a cryogenic vehicle, fueled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. It uses a single RL10C-1 engine producing 101.86 kN/10,387 kg/22,900 lbs of thrust. The cryogenic tanks are insulated with a combination of helium-purged insulation blankets, radiation shields, and Spray-On Foam Insulation (SOFI). The Centaur forward adapter (CFA) provides the structural mountings for the fault-tolerant avionics system and the structural and electrical interfaces with the spacecraft.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider
With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider

 

Booster

The Atlas V booster is 3.8 m/12.5 feet in diameter and 32.46 m/106.5 feet in length. The booster’s tanks are structurally rigid and constructed of isogrid aluminum barrels, spun-formed aluminum domes, and intertank skirts. Atlas booster propulsion is provided by the RD-180 engine system (a single engine with two thrust chambers). The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen, and delivers 3,826.36 kN/390,180 kg/860,200 lbs of thrust at sea level. The Atlas V booster is controlled by the Centaur avionics system, which provides guidance, flight control, and vehicle sequencing functions during the booster and Centaur phases of flight.

The launch of this mission culminates many months of teamwork between the Air Force Space and Missile System Center (SMC) Launch Systems Directorate (LR), Boeing, ULA and the RCO

Hall thruster

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), and Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) are collaborating to host a Hall thruster experiment onboard the X-37B flight vehicle (Boeing). The experiment will be hosted on Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) mission 4, the fourth flight of the X-37B reusable space plane.

In a testing procedure, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxis on the flightline in June 2009 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California (Courtesy photo)
In a testing procedure, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxis on the flightline in June 2009 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California (Courtesy photo)

The first three OTV flights have accumulated a total of 1,367 days of on-orbit experimentation prior to successful landings and recoveries at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The X-37B program performs risk reduction, experimentation, and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies, and it is administered by RCO.

The Hall thruster that will fly on the X-37B experiment is a modified version of the units that have propelled SMC’s first three Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) military communications spacecraft. A Hall thruster is a type of electric propulsion device that produces thrust by ionizing and accelerating a noble gas, usually xenon. While producing comparatively low thrust relative to conventional rocket engines, Hall thrusters provide significantly greater specific impulse, or fuel economy. This results in increased payload carrying capacity and a greater number of on-orbit maneuvers for a spacecraft using Hall thrusters rather than traditional rocket engines.

This experiment will enable in-space characterization of Hall thruster design modifications that are intended to improve performance relative to the state-of-the-art units onboard AEHF. The experiment will include collection of telemetry from the Hall thruster operating in the space environment as well as measurement of the thrust imparted on the vehicle. The resulting data will be used to validate and improve Hall thruster and environmental modeling capabilities, which enhance the ability to extrapolate ground test results to actual on-orbit performance. The on-orbit test plans are being developed by AFRL and administered by RCO.

The experiment has garnered strong support from AFRL senior leadership. «Space is so vitally important to everything we do», said Major General Tom Masiello, AFRL commander. «Secure comms, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), missile warning, weather prediction, precision navigation and timing all rely on it, and the domain is increasingly contested. A more efficient on-orbit thruster capability is huge. Less fuel burn lowers the cost to get up there, plus it enhances spacecraft operational flexibility, survivability and longevity».

Dr. Greg Spanjers, the AFRL Space Capability Lead and Chief Scientist of the Space Vehicles Directorate, added, «AFRL is proud to be able to contribute to this research teamed with our partners at SMC, RCO, NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Aerojet Rocketdyne. It was great to see our Government-Contractor team identify an opportunity and then quickly respond to implement a solution that will offer future Air Force spacecraft even greater capabilities».

The first X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle waits in the encapsulation cell of the Evolved Expendable Launch vehicle April 5, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Florida. Half of the Atlas V five-meter fairing is visible in the background. The Hall thruster being tested on this flight provide significantly greater specific impulse, or fuel economy and may lead to increased payload carrying capacity and a greater number of on-orbit maneuvers for a spacecraft using Hall thrusters rather than traditional rocket engines (Courtesy photo)
The first X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle waits in the encapsulation cell of the Evolved Expendable Launch vehicle April 5, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Florida. Half of the Atlas V five-meter fairing is visible in the background. The Hall thruster being tested on this flight provide significantly greater specific impulse, or fuel economy and may lead to increased payload carrying capacity and a greater number of on-orbit maneuvers for a spacecraft using Hall thrusters rather than traditional rocket engines (Courtesy photo)

 

Facts

Length 29 feet, 3 inches/8.91 m
Height 9 feet, 6 inches/2.90 m
Wing Span 14 feet, 11 inches/4.55 m
Experiment Bay Size 7 feet/2.13 m by 4 feet/1.22 m
Launch Weight 11,000 pounds/4,990 kg
Orbit Range 110-500 miles/177-805 km above Earth