America’s next spaceplane

The Space Shuttle is on its way to retirement to be replaced by expendable rockets and capsules but the USA will still be flying reusable spaceplanes although they will USAF’s not NASA’s:

It has been a long haul to the launch pad, but the U.S. Air Force and Boeing are gearing up to loft the X-37B – an unpiloted military space plane, SPACE.com has learned.

Tucked inside the shroud of an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), the winged craft will be boosted out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, orbit the Earth and then make an auto-pilot landing in California.

The X-37B OTV-1 (Orbital Test Vehicle 1) is currently on the launch manifest for January 2010, explained U.S. Air Force Captain Elizabeth Aptekar, who works in media operations for the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.

“The vehicle is ready for the shipping process, which includes minor close-out activities,” Aptekar told SPACE.com. “The vehicle will ship at the conclusion of the pre-ship activities … which should be approximately 60 days before its launch date.”….

Remember the Shuttle program was partly funded by DOD so its not surprising the Air Force is still interested in spaceplanes. Its seems strange to me that the US government would let go to waste 30 years of spaceplane experience. Although on second thoughts, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised .

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