X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle
Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems is working in a vehicle designed to be launched like a satellite and land like an airplane (as the shuttle did). The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is an experimental test program for the U.S. Air Force.
On June 16th, 2012, the second X-37-B Orbital Test Vehicle completed its 469 day mission on space arriving at Vandenberg Air Force Base (California). This unmanned, reusable space plane was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (Florida) on March 5th, 2011.
The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth: USAF
With the retirement of all NASA’s shuttles, the future of space travel faces more questions than answers, however contractors, civilians and military scientists are working hard to present the next generation of space reusable and sustainable vehicles. It is likely we’ll have to settle for unmanned missions in the next couple of years though.
Another launch of the X-37B is being prepared for next Fall. It will be a re-flight of the first X-37B which had a 224 days mission on orbit. June 27th, 2012.
More about the X-37B:
The X-37B is one-fourth the size of the Space Shuttle, and relies upon the same family of lifting body design. It also features a similar landing profile. The vehicle was built using lighter composite structures, rather than traditional aluminum. A new generation of high-temperature wing leading-edge tiles will also debut on the X-37B. These toughened uni-piece ceramic tiles replace the carbon carbon wing leading edge segments on the Space Shuttle. The X-37B also uses toughened uni-piece silica tiles, which are significantly more durable than the first generation tiles used by the Space Shuttle. The X-37B was also the first to use advanced conformal reusable insulation (CRI) blankets.
All avionics on the X-37B are designed to automate all de-orbit and landing functions. Additionally, there is no hydraulics onboard the X-37B; flight controls and brakes use electromechanical actuation: Boeing
June 27th, 2012.