The miniature US space shuttle, the X-37B drone, is preparing for its seventh long-range flight. As with these previous missions, this vehicle will test a very wide range of experiments, return them to Earth (which is interesting), and perform many demonstrations of new technologies, some of which are very innovative. It will also be used to put one or more small satellites into orbit, or even recover at least one. Its flight envelope will also be expanded with new maneuvers for sure.
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Thirteen months after returning to Earth, and at the end of its sixth 908-day mission, the X-37B is preparing to return to space for a very long mission that may exceed 1,000 days in 2019. It rotates in orbitIt rotates in orbit. This spacecraft is scheduled to be launched on December 7, 2023 aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket SpaceXSpaceX.
A service unit increases the vehicle’s capabilities
This seventh mission, in addition to the scientific experiments it will carry out, is distinguished by its goal of “ Pushing the limits of spacecraft by working in new orbital regimes “, according to Lt. Col. Joseph Fritchen, program manager. The expanded flight capabilities are explained by the practical use of the service module that had already been tested during the previous mission. This module hosted various experiments, including a conversion experimentenergyenergy Solar energy in microwave energy by radio frequencies and others on the study of spatial effects on material samples and seeds. The seventh flight plans to conduct new experiments to expose seeds and materials to space radiation.
By integrating this module, the X-37B becomes a more responsive and flexible test platform capable of remaining in orbit for a longer period. Improvements in the vehicle’s maneuverability and aerospace will enable it to explore never-before-seen trajectories and orbit changes.
A vehicle that contributes to the technological advancement of the United States
The general. B. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations, confirms, “ The importance of the mission’s experimental efforts » Its common thread could be space radiation and is reminiscent of the role of the X-37B « To improve current and future space operations “. These X-37B missions reflect” The US Space Force’s commitment to innovation and redefining possibilities in space “.
Recording periods in orbit raises questions
While early missions of the X-37B raised questions about its true nature, it is now clear that it serves primarily as an in-orbit test platform, rather than as an instrument of utility for military or espionage activities. Although experts are skeptical about its purely military use, they remain fascinated by the surprisingly long duration of its missions. And perhaps here lies the mystery surrounding the X-37B program: what justifies staying in orbit for so long and for longer and longer mission after mission!
Two X-37B aircraft are said to be in service. Between them, they carried out six missions:
- OTV-1, April 22 to December 3, 2010 (224 days);
- OTV-2, from March 5, 2011 to June 16, 2012 (468 days);
- OTV-3, from December 11, 2012 to October 17, 2014 (674 days);
- OTV-4, from May 20, 2015 to May 7, 2017 (718 days);
- OTV-5, from September 7, 2017 to October 27, 2019 (780 days);
- OTV-6, from May 17, 2020 to November 12, 2022 (908 days).
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