More speculation: A single mothership could be used for operational TSTO flights, assuming launches are periodic or in response to an event. The new
Groom hangar doors could support "drive through" ops, requiring less cycle time for ingress/egress, before overhead sensor assets can respond, like
a large "scoot and hide" shelter. The berm blocks some sight to the mountain ranges off the base and suggests an operation with flight frequency
beyond a limited number of prototype sorties. It is an additional precaution to protect from "peeks" at sight-sensitive flight assets staged at
The limited berm height may allow views above floor level, of the mothership which supports the idea that the TSTO operations are more covert, than
clandestine. It's as though the customer is attempting to confuse observers about schedules than to keep things covered. Regular logistics
operations ferrying personnel and supplies through the hangar could add to the schedule confusion. The hangar could temporarily house two
motherships, to allow for switch-out of launch hardware to keep flight ops online, while the other is ferried out for depot level MRO, off base.
If a two ship rotation is used, it takes excess parking time with doors open, supporting the single mothership concept. The berms were placed in
front of the egress doors, and arrangement of the two motherships inside the hangar would happen through the opposite doors from the berm. They'd be
opened while wrangling two motherships into and out of the hangar. The high temps from firing a rocket (ducted or not) to reach LEO will be detected
by IR sensors. The ability to launch in a safe location (ocean) will require no RF LO features and allows crews flexibility to vary the location and
reduces the size of the space vehicle rocket motor.
Site-sensitive operations may not be a requirement, but operating at Groom Lake still helps to keep a low profile schedule, to use a CTF that supports
this launch type and to hide within a regular logistics schedule. Also, a hangar with "drive through" doors would accommodate better ferrying
logistics in and out of the base, thus giving the customer more return on hangar investment. If this launch was to operate at a less obscure base,
the cost of hiding such would be prohibitive and draw attention.
If the space asset lost rocket motor, the launch ops could recover at the Vandenberg runway or self-destruct. The best glide ratio of a body may be 8
to 1, making the down range glide 70 miles from the launch. Is this why we've heard of launches over China Lake? During prototype development,
it's prudent to test near Groom Lake, due to the increased chance of failure that requires recovery back on base.
C-17 as Mothership/Transport?
The C-17 is a USAF asset they could fit two of inside the hangar and can ferry cargo and personnel as well. Groom Lake is near the latitude of
Vandenberg AFB, which supports polar orbits for a spy sat mission. Launches happen within the C-17's operating radius, which places them into the
extended sea range off the Pacific coast. The C-17's can hide its mission "in plain sight" and has the lift capacity for large space assets and
has proven to launch them out of its cargo bay.
Boeing Air Launch Program
Unknown Contracts to Boeing "performance in Texas" - Global Strike Dallas?
May 11, 2009
May 15, 2009
May 27, 2009
June 18, 2009