Air Force Launches Reusable X-37B Spaceship

At 7:52 p.m. last night, an Air Force Atlas 501 rocket shot the capsule enclosed X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle into space from Cape Canaveral. Resembling a small space shuttle, the OTV was built in Boeing’s famed Phantom Works. The OTV will serve as an “on-orbit” laboratory for new sensors and other high-tech devices that will later be built into satellites. Its payload is highly classified, but the Air Force says test flights aboard the retrievable OTV will prove out new technologies before they are shot into space, to stay.

The 29 foot OTV is powered by a combination of lithium ion batteries and solar panels. Air Force deputy undersecretary for space programs, Gary Payton, told reporters: “Probably the most important demonstration is on the ground, see what it really takes to turn this bird around and get it ready to go fly again.” The turnaround goal is 15 days. As for how long it will stay up there: “In all honesty, we don’t know when it’s coming back for sure,” said Payton. “I don’t think we’ve set any specific goal, but I would think handling this bird more like an SR-71 and less like a routine space launch vehicle would be a good objective,”

— Greg

  • rugerblake

    Nick Chen - I couldn’t agree more. It is a transformational achievement. One that is very typical of defense technology advances. This has very similar implications in technology and geopolitics as the bicycle and the machine gun in their day.

  • tim

    I’m from England but couldn’t be happier that the US now owns space and the internet rather than the weak socialist EU or those scum bag Russians or Chinese !

    Just waiting for the Iranian space plane with warp drive and photon torpedoes to be launched next week off the back of an ice cream van !

    Also please USA don’t let Israel steal all the Intellectual Property and Hawk it to the Chinese !! They have just robbed the world via their cohorts in the City Of London and Wall St and enough is enough .

    • DennisBuller

      The Chinese do not need the Israelis to rob us blind.
      They copy everything we have and then under-price us around the world.

  • Ben

    Brit too! And although I’m not exactly comparing the two. I feel the need to point out another technology offering similarly massive potential military benefits. Developed on a shoe string and currently in the public domain. I think the MOD really should be looking at this.

    P.S. You gotta love Branson aint ya ;). Yours in antisipation of predictable comments. Ben

    • PTONE

      Huh, the military ahead of a blog poster, usually the posters have the idea first. But guess what they used to test flight the x37B, here’s a pic……

  • Politico

    The Highly Classified payloads may be what it is gaining while in space. Maybe a few dead Chinese or Russian Satellites here and there to keep track of advances of potential enemies. Not a Sermon, just a thought.

    • Locarno

      To be honest, for a first launch, the payload is probably about 1,557,783 accelerometers and strain guages to prove it can safely do a *second* launch.
      This is a USAF bird, after all, which means DoD air(or space?)worthiness processes probably apply

  • Rick


    Why don’t you just say you don’t like Jews?

  • Philo

    One Word: Awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11111

  • Maxtrue

    What use?

    high velocity bunker busters

    space launched cruise missiles

    anti-sat/missile systems

    sat defense systems

    quick time recon

    as I said, twice the size would pack the punch…

  • technology buff

    transformational indeed! appears to be a cheap (compared to Shuttle and satellites of similar capability if there are such) quickly launched (in case of destruction by Chinese anti-satellite missiles) probably super stealth, persistent powered solar cells so it never runs out of power, add spy cameras, communications gear, a few icbms, and the new flying laser, and room for other experiments on the way, and you can now realize the shield of Reagan’s Star Wars but in a much simpler than envisioned and much cheaper manner.

    Imagine 100 of these constantly flying around the earth with a proven anti-missile laser or anti-missile missile system or both. Iranian missiles may no longer seem as threatening and perhaps and our allies will pay a monthly service charge for “system benefits.”

    • Sev

      Of course its cheap compared to the shuttle. YOu don’t have a life support system and food and several human beings in the craft. Just the rocket and the payload

  • Tenn Slim

    Just to clarify.
    Boeing BOUGHT the McDonnell Douglas Famed Phantom Works, eons ago.
    St. Louis engineers can be proud of this one.
    Semper Fi

  • bobbymike

    It is not just this system. On the same day the X-37 was launched a Minotaur IV Lite (old Peacekeeper ICBM) was sent aloft with an HTV-2 as its payload (Hypersonic Test Vehicle) This is the real global strike weapon.

  • Tim

    Rick I have Jewish , Russian , Chinese friends even god forbid Scottish friends ! Don’t hate them just their leaders .

    Surely its ok to criticize Israel , Russia and China as States ?

    And please Israel doesn’t give a damm about the USA or UK ,they would sell our secrets to anyone for a few dollars . Am I mistaken or has the US caught numerous Israeli spies ?

    • Sev

      Just don’t criticize the muslims or they’ll threaten to kill your sorry ass.

    • Alex

      Have to agree with Tim. If something catastrophic happened to the U.S. can you see “our closest ally in the middle east” doing a damm thing to help us? They’d just bemoan the loss of the foreign aid we give them and look for a new teat at which to suckle; probably China.

  • Nathan

    As the thing rides an Atlas V up the well I fail to see how this thing constitutes anything resembling a game changer. We have had conventional ICBMs for ages but we don’t use them for the same reason that we won’t use the x37 to deliver ordinance: cost. The Russians have the same capability (automated and everything) with updated 80s tech for what I am sure is a fraction of the cost. Having an automated relatively cheap (although relatively ‘cheap’ is everything when compared to the disaster which was the shuttle program) high endurance orbital vehicular is important and all, just not game changing. Too bad the x33 was scrapped.

  • W.J. Laughlin

    This laugh is important for one reason. It is a small first step into weaponry that will allow this country to OWN space. Everyone marveled at the Global Hawk and the Predator both of which are tinker toys next to what has become. Anyone who has been the target of a Reaper attack (if there are any alive) will tell you that. I would like to say I can’t wait to see what comes next but we probably will not ever find that out.

  • Alex -DC

    We are under a bot attack.

  • Maxtrue

    Well don’t be surprised the Israelis end up interested in PAK FA rather than the lesser JSF. Tim , please substantiate your claims. I rather doubt we would have such a close relationship if the DOD felt as you did.

    If the X-37 was a bit bigger you could drop scram cruise missiles and their falling velocity would be sufficient to power up. I suppose rail technology would be cheaper.

    Still, this gives the US an option of Rods from God. I would if a test of the concept would cause global condemnation….. The Chinese started this latest round of escalation with their anti-sat test.

    • Maxtrue

      I wonder if a test…. sorry… Yep, this is a game changer too.

  • jim

    Doe the name ohnathen Pollard ring a bell?

  • Jim

    How about 8% of all profits of the US economy going to bankers and CEO’s that are intentionally tanking the economy to strip blacks and poor people of their life savings after they were baited into ARM’s?

    How about the 250 Mossad agents arrested during and after 911?