WASHINGTON, (BM) – The U.S. Department of Defense is about to conduct a series of experiments aboard the unmanned X-37B spacecraft, which will be put into low Earth orbit for the sixth time in 10 years.
This was said on Wednesday by US Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, speaking at a video conference organized by the Space Foundation, a public organization that promotes space research, learned BulgarianMilitary.com.
She noted that the X-37B spacecraft will be re-launched into orbit with a secret mission on May 16 using the Atlas 5 heavy launch vehicle from the launch site at Cape Canaveral in Florida. “More experiments will be conducted on board than during previous X-37B flights,” the minister said. So, for the first time, a service module for research for NASA and the Pentagon will be installed and used.
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration is about to study the effects of radiation and other phenomena on food and seed samples. Another experiment will be conducted with the support of the US Navy Research Laboratory. It means “the conversion of solar energy into radio frequency microwave energy, and then the transfer of this energy to Earth will be studied,” the minister explained.
As part of the mission, the small satellite FalconSat-8, developed by the US Air Force Academy, will also be launched into space, on which five separate experiments will be conducted.
“Each launch represents a significant milestone and step forward in terms of how we rapidly create, test and deploy space systems,” said Air Force Commander General Air Force John Raymond, who also participated in the conference. Raymond and Barrett did not talk about how long the sixth mission would last.
The launch of the Atlas-5 rocket will be carried out to implement a mission in the interests of the US Space Forces. At the same time, the US Air Force special forces are in charge of the project, which is also developing the next-generation strategic bomber, which should exceed the characteristics of the B-2 Spirit aircraft. Information about the devices installed on board the X-37V, including the contents of the cargo compartment, is classified.
The first spacecraft flight, which began in April 2010, lasted 225 days. The second – 468 days (from March 2011 to June 2012), the third – 675 days (from December 2012 to October 2014). During the fourth mission, which ended May 7, 2017, the device circled the Earth for 717 days, 20 hours and 42 minutes. The fifth mission was a record in duration: X-37B landed on October 27 last year on the runway of the Space Flight Center. John F. Kennedy at Cape Canaveral in Florida, having spent 780 days in orbit. Altogether, space planes — and at least two such devices were put into operation — spent 2865 days in orbit.
Under the veil of secrecy
Boeing Corporation launched the X-37B in 1999 under the auspices of NASA. In 2004, the program was classified and transferred to the Air Force.
The device has a take-off mass of almost 5 tons, reaches 8.9 m in length, 2.9 m in height. The span of its small triangular wings is 4.5 m. It is equipped with solar panels, which when deployed in orbit serve as a source of electricity. All flight and landing take place automatically.
According to information previously distributed by the Pentagon, the spaceplane is designed to operate at altitudes from 200 to 750 km. He is able to quickly change orbits and maneuver. Experts believe that the spacecraft can perform reconnaissance tasks, deliver small cargoes into space, and is convenient for testing new devices that can be used, for example, on spy satellites.
A number of experts see the X-37B as a prototype of a future space interceptor, which makes it possible to inspect and, if necessary, disable enemy satellites, and, possibly, launch missile and bomb strikes from orbit. The Pentagon denies this, pointing out that the X-37B is just a “platform for testing new technologies.”
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