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In 1967, the USAF Tested the X-23 Prime, a crossrange reentry x-plane ...and secret spysat testbed

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posted on Mar, 5 2018 @ 06:46 PM
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On April 19, 1967, a spacecraft that looked somewhat like a fat, winged dart reentered the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. As it dipped into the upper reaches of the ionosphere it began to glow and was surrounded by a fiery plasma. But rather than traveling in a straight line as most reentering spacecraft did, the glowing craft began banking at hypersonic speeds, finally slowing and deploying a parachute at a point more than 1,100 kilometers off its orbital path. A JC-130 aircraft grabbed its parachute lines high above the Pacific and the crew winched it inside. The experimental spacecraft, known as the X-23 PRIME, was not a classified project. According to the US Air Force, it was intended to test the ability of a spacecraft to travel crossrange from its entry orbit, something that many years later would be incorporated into the design of NASA’s space shuttle.

But what was not public at the time was the fact that the X-23’s silent sponsor was an agency that normally operated in the shadows, and its very existence was then classified. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) operated the nation’s fleet of intelligence satellites, many of which returned images of Soviet military facilities on film contained in reentry vehicles that were recovered over the Pacific Ocean by the same C-130 aircraft involved in the PRIME recovery. Those reentry vehicles fell ballistically from orbit, which meant that they could fall anywhere within a sizeable reentry ellipse and thus had to be recovered over the ocean, far from where their exposed film would be processed and analyzed. The NRO was interested in reducing the time that it took to get the film from orbit to photo-analysts in Washington, DC, who would peer through microscopes at light tables and try to discern what was happening inside the Soviet Union. Vehicles such as PRIME could potentially make it possible to land that film inside the continental United States, something that intelligence officials considered doing ever since the early 1960s but had never committed to, due to technical and political limitations.

The connection between PRIME and the NRO is mentioned in a declassified letter written in 1965 by then NRO Director Brockway McMillan to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. McMillan referred to a task that McNamara had recently given him to “Propose a plan to develop the capability for instantaneous satellite reconnaissance with at least G[AMBIT] resolution for various uses (particularly in relation to Titan-III) such as monitoring the arms control agreements, tactical uses, etc.” PRIME was one of a whole suite of options that the NRO was then investigating to reduce the time to get imagery to decision-makers, but it was one of the most visible, hiding a research project for satellite reconnaissance in plain sight.



www.thespacereview.com...


Not everything that is developed has a single use or role. Fighters can be used for recon. Recon assets can conduct strikes. And spaceplanes can not only carry out experiments, but are also spysats. In this case, the 4th flight that was equipped to be a testbed explicitly for the spy sat mission, but was not launched. The approach to use an easily retaskable spaceplane for a spysat was scrapped.

Or was it?

The X-37 program was taken over by the Air Force, made into a real spaceplane and is periodically launched. What the spaceplane does is something of a mystery. The USAF states it is an experimental testbed. Of which, I am completely certain it is. However, as I said, one thing does not have to have one role. And what tech it be testing? Not just new solar panels and batteries and ion drives. It almost assuredly tests new cameras and telescopes, stuff used by spysats as well. Potentially even in an operational capacity.

en.wikipedia.org...




posted on Mar, 5 2018 @ 06:54 PM
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a reply to: anzha

We were at Hickam when they formally disbanded Test Group, the guys that caught the satellites. They had a horrible crash trying to rescue a sailor a couple hundred miles from Honolulu. The helicopter ended up crashing onto the deck of a ship carrying rocket fuel. The sailor ended up staying on board until they reached Pearl Harbor with the wreckage. He eventually tried to commit suicide.



posted on Mar, 5 2018 @ 07:00 PM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

geez. the fuel they used on those was hypergolic, nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine mostly. That shbt is scary as fsck.



posted on Mar, 5 2018 @ 07:04 PM
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a reply to: anzha

The helo pilot did all he could to miss the ship and ended up hitting the edge of the deck instead of the hold hatch, which they had been hovering over. They thought the PJ might have made it, because they couldn't find him, but he was on the cable at the time, and they came down on him.



posted on Mar, 5 2018 @ 07:09 PM
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originally posted by: Zaphod58
a reply to: anzha

We were at Hickam when they formally disbanded Test Group, the guys that caught the satellites. They had a horrible crash trying to rescue a sailor a couple hundred miles from Honolulu. The helicopter ended up crashing onto the deck of a ship carrying rocket fuel. The sailor ended up staying on board until they reached Pearl Harbor with the wreckage. He eventually tried to commit suicide.


Catch the satellite? I'm thinking more like Ice Station Zebra where they catch a package ejected from the satellite.



posted on Mar, 5 2018 @ 07:11 PM
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a reply to: gariac

Ok, just for you. ...when they caught the film canister released from the satellite that then parachuted down to the Pacific where it was caught by either a JC-130 or HH-53.



posted on Mar, 5 2018 @ 07:11 PM
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a reply to: gariac

It was normally a package ejected.



posted on Mar, 6 2018 @ 02:37 AM
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Time to drag out the D21 drone training.



posted on Mar, 6 2018 @ 04:00 AM
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Is that the one that The Six Million Dollar Man crashed in in the opening sequence (I'm showing my age now!)?



posted on Mar, 6 2018 @ 05:47 AM
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a reply to: oldcarpy

That was the HL-20 IIRC.



posted on Mar, 6 2018 @ 05:58 AM
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a reply to: Zaphod58


Did some looking up - how sad am I?

Oscar Goldman does refer to the HL-20 in one episode but the opening bit is apparently based on a real crash of a M2-F2 lifting body dropped from a B52 on May 10th 1967. Piloted by Bruce Peterson, who survived, apparently.



posted on Mar, 6 2018 @ 06:07 AM
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a reply to: oldcarpy

There were three or four lifting bodies in that time range that were remarkably similar to each other (duh, they were lifting bodies).



posted on Mar, 6 2018 @ 02:17 PM
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a reply to: oldcarpy

According to the book "Lifting Bodies" (?) they needed ballast on that and rather than just add weight they built a cage for the pilot. Ended up saving his life.

(I read the book, don't remember the exact title)
edit on 6-3-2018 by Flipper35 because: (no reason given)

edit on 6-3-2018 by Flipper35 because: spleeling



posted on Mar, 6 2018 @ 02:55 PM
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a reply to: oldcarpy

An article about the crash- airandspace.si.edu...



posted on Mar, 7 2018 @ 03:54 AM
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a reply to: CrownCartwheelCreed


Thanks - amazing he survived.



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