posted on Apr, 7 2010 @ 11:39 AM
When I first read this thread I thought, “Geez, have all these people been living in a cave?” This program has been in development for a more than
a decade and it hasn’t been a secret.
During the mid 1990s, a competition to develop a small reusable space plane resulted in a successful design from Boeing. In October 1996, the Air
Force Research Laboratory's Military Space Plane Technology (MiST) office awarded Boeing a contract to build a subscale technology demonstrator
called the Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV, later designated X-40A) to test the final low-speed approach and landing phase of the return from space. The
X-40A first flew on 11 August 1998 after being dropped from a UH-60L helicopter, and successfully flew to an automatic landing at Holloman Air Force
Base, New Mexico.
In 1996, NASA had initiated a research effort to evaluate various reusable launch vehicle technologies using low-cost "Pathfinder" vehicles. By late
1996, NASA had reserved the X-37 designator for use with one of the as yet unspecified pathfinder craft. In 1998, Boeing submitted a proposal to build
a spacecraft based on its X-40A/SMV design. This subsequently became the X-37, a 120%-scaled up version of the X-40.
In early 2000, the Air Force loaned the X-40A to NASA to serve as a risk-reduction technology demonstrator for the X-37 program. Primary test
objectives for the X-40A included validation of vehicle shape, guidance, flight control, and navigation systems and software. The X-40A arrived at
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB, California on 19 May 2000. Carried to release altitude by a CH-47D helicopter, the X-40A made seven
captive flights and seven free flights. I had the opportunity to watch several of these flights from either the control room or adjacent to the
The original plan called for the X-37 to be carried into space inside the Space Shuttle’s cargo bay and released for automatic landings. In 2002,
however, plans were revised to include one X-37A Approach and Landing Test Vehicle (ALTV) for atmospheric drop tests and one X-37B Orbital Test
In 2004, due to NASA policy changes, control of the X-37A program was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Plans to
drop the X-37A from a B-52H were scrapped and the Scaled Composites "White Knight" aircraft (carrier of the "SpaceShip One" X-Prize vehicle)
became the ALTV carrier aircraft. Following several captive flights, the X-37A made its first free flight on 7 April 2006. I watched the landing from
the Edwards South Base complex near the main runway. The flight itself was highly successful but the vehicle ran off the end of the runway after
touchdown, damaging the nose landing gear. A second flight on 18 August was uneventful and the third and final flight took place on 26 September.
Orbital testing is scheduled to begin this year. Test objectives for the X-37B OTV include risk-reduction, experimentation, and operational concept
development for reusable space vehicle technologies, in support of long-term developmental space objectives. The X-37B is to be launched on top of an
Atlas V expendable rocket booster from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, with a landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The mission
will test the vehicle's navigation, guidance and control systems, as well as the autonomous reentry and landing sequence.
Having lived with this thing for nearly 14 years, I guess I just assumed that everybody knew about it. For anyone following space plane development,
the X-40 and X-37 projects received extensive coverage in the aviation press and related Internet sites.