X-37B Had Seven Collisions in Space

An Air Force Technician Inspects the X-37B After it Returned to Earth Last Week

Here’s an interesting tidbit from a recent Defense News article on the mysterious X-37B space plane; the craft has seven, yes, seven dents in it from collisions with space debris!

“For the first flight, we’re extremely pleased with the outcome of the entire mission of the X-37B,” said Richard McKinney, the deputy under secretary of the Air Force for space programs.

The only physical damage seen so far has been seven areas where space debris collided with the aircraft. It also blew out a tire upon landing.

We’ve been warned for a long time that space debris is becoming a huge, potentially deadly problem. I’ve heard Air Force leaders repeatedly say that a collision with even a tiny object in space can have disastrous consequences.

So seven hits over the course of the nearly eight months that the X-37B was in space. Are collisions in space that common? If so, has the X-37B already taken a serious step toward mitigating that problem by using extra tough coatings? Or is this just an indicator of how bad things are up there?

Here’s the piece.

  • @ViolentCannibal

    So I wonder what happens if your NASA space shuttle somehow blew up in space, like… explode. Does it become debris too? Even so, how do we get rid of the debris? o.O

  • @MrKopfschuss

    Think we’d have more space up there.

  • Trevor

    I’d be curious to hear what those in the “know” have to say, but I was under the impression that with the huge velocities at play in orbit, collisions (even with tiny objects) tend to be more catastrophic than just “dents.” I suppose there are any number of explanations, including among them, (1) that the craft was lucky and just happen to have collisions with debris where there was not a huge difference in velocity/direction; (2) that the craft has a very tough hide; or (3) something else. I’m curious whether the “something else” might perhaps give us some idea of what this thing was doing — perhaps getting up close and personal with other satellites and getting dented as a result?

  • Jacob

    Our satellites survive up in orbit….shouldn’t a space PLANE be able to evade debris better

    • blight

      What makes you think it isn’t being operated ballistically in orbit? Aka launch and put it into an orbit for a while and then de-orbit for landing.

    • jhm

      satellites orbit a bit higher and at lower speeds, avoiding fatal damage.

  • Lautlos

    Now if only it had something… like a laser to blast that “junk” before they collided. So it would be pure for self defense.

  • RickRouss

    Bumping in to other countries satellites and performing ah………….modifications??????????

  • roland

    It’s could use some new body work, early warning device detection and automatic crash and collision flight prevention for future mission.

  • Hunter78

    Maybe it was designed to maneuver and hit objects in orbit.

  • Curt

    OK, I will ask, how many non-mission effecting dents are in other LEO sattelites? My guess is we don’t know. Could be thousands since they didn’t effect the mission. Might be instructive to compare it with how many small impacts were found on Hubble or the ISS before we start declaring the sky is falling.

    • DavidLSpud


      …was that a 2×4 box around the front landing gear?? kindatechnicallookinaitn’tit !

      ONE TIME the Space Shuttle came back after a “training” mission…and all of the tires were squished about one-half flat from a heavily loaded experiment bay…

      counldn’tbenuttinuptharnow ( ; )

      …and I do have my flameproof tinfoilhat secure with a rubber band….just in case !

  • S O

    Where were the damages?

    If (almost) all are outside of the re-entry heat shield, I’d consider the possibility that experimenting with debris hits was probably part of the mission.

  • Justin H

    The Russians plan to spend $2billion on a spacecraft that will “push” debris out of orbit.

  • Will R

    An orbit is mainly determined by velocity (also by mass), so a satellite in a single orbit won’t really get hit by much, unless the debris is slowing down from a larger orbit. Maneuvering in orbit, on the other hand, means moving between orbits slowly. Hitting orbiting debris while performing a maneuver would leave a small dent. Hitting orbiting debris while standing still would cause massive damage, but it’s not likely. Hope this clears stuff up.

    • chuck

      That doesn’t make sense. Orbits are not discrete paths that one moves between. Everything up there is in orbit, the problem is when those orbits intersect. Whether you are making changes to your orbit or not would not change your odds of being hit by debris.

    • altor

      An orbit is determined only by velocity, not by mass. All objects in the same orbit have the same velocity, but they could go in opposite directions. Also orbits intersect if they have equal radio.
      But if debris has a mass of only few grams collisions should not be catastrophic.

  • Joe LittleBear

    What we need is an EMT field to “repel ” objects away from the craft…..an Electomatic shield if you will….even if it only works on metal objects and subtances that contain metals….the elimination of those would help greately…

  • Sam Iam

    The space station is covered in dents. It’s so common that during that space walks are orchestrated to put the astronaut behind parts of the station to protect him from being hit.

  • Scott

    Perhaps they should fit a bull bar

  • howard

    i’d assume some form of false hull or hull sponge armor is going to be
    needed longer term in this type of space flight.
    if the smaller particles/pieces whizzing by don’t have
    enough force or momentum to penetrate the X-37B hull, the military
    ought to consider itself lucky only a dent was the result.

    Momentum is defined as mass times velocity (p=mv).

  • roguetrooper

    how about the very latest in space debris collision protection, would that be phototropic deflector shielding, I hear you cry, some form of exotic energy shielding straight out of a sci fi programme, nope, It’s called ICE, that’s right frozen water!!!

    • tiger

      How would you spray water in space? It freezes as soon as it leaves the nozzle. Then there is the weight of the water to deal with.

  • Robert Norwood

    I notice this thing also has tiles. Is there a reason they can’t make large shaped body sections? I mean tiles? C’mon, the little green men - gray in most cases, gotta be laughing out of their mouth slits.

  • Clint

    Can anyone comment as to why the tech is wearing that serious suit? It looks like he’s got his own oxygen supply in an air-tight suit? Why would they tech need that?

    • gust

      Hazmat procedures, space craft contain several toxic chemicals, thus the need for the suits.