X-37B Military Space Plane Breaks Record on Latest Mystery Mission

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SPACE.COM)

 

X-37B Military Space Plane Breaks Record on Latest Mystery Mission

Artist's illustration of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane in orbit.

Artist’s illustration of the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane in orbit.
(Image: © Boeing)

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane just broke its spaceflight-duration record.

At 6:43 a.m. EDT (1043 GMT) today (Aug. 26), the robotic X-37B sailed past the program mark of 717 days, 20 hours and 42 minutes, which was set by the previous mission, known as Orbital Test Vehicle 4 (OTV-4).

The current mission, OTV-5, began on Sept. 7, 2017, with a liftoff atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It’s unclear what the space plane is doing up there now, or what it has done on past flights; X-37B missions are classified, and the Air Force therefore tends to speak of the vehicle and its activities in general terms.

Related: The X-37B Space Plane: 6 Surprising Facts

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Boeing X-37B Space Plane – What You Need To Know
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“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,” Air Force officials wrote in the X-37B fact sheet.

“Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electron-mechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing,” the officials added.

The test campaign seems to involve pushing the X-37B’s endurance, because each of the five missions has lasted longer than its predecessor. OTV-1 launched in April 2010, and returned to Earth that December after 224 days in space. OTV-2 ran for 468 days, from March 2011 through June 2012. OTV-3 launched in December 2012 and landed in October 2014, racking up 675 days of spaceflight. And OTV-4 landed in May 2017 after nearly 718 days in orbit.

OTV-5 is nowhere near the overall spaceflight-duration record, however. Earth-observation and communications satellites commonly operate for five years or more, as do robotic planetary explorers. NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars for more than seven years, for example, and the agency’s twin Voyager probes are still going strong in interstellar space more than four decades after their launches.

SpaceX Launches Secretive X-37B Space Plane
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The Air Force has at least two X-37B’s, both of which were built by Boeing. The solar-powered vehicles look like NASA’s old space shuttle orbiters, but are much smaller; an X-37B could fit entirely within the shuttle’s cavernous payload bay.

Each X-37B measures 29 feet (8.8 meters) long by 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a wingspan of about 15 feet (4.6 m). The space plane’s payload bay is about the size of a pickup-truck bed.

Like the space shuttle, the winged X-37B launches vertically and lands on a runway. All five X-37B missions have lifted off from Florida’s Space Coast. The first three landings took place at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but OTV-4 touched down at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Mike Wall’s book about the search for alien life, “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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Elon Musk Just Revealed Who The First Civilian To Fly Around The Moon Is

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BUSINESS INSIDER)

 

Elon Musk just revealed who will fly to the moon on SpaceX’s new rocket ship

yusaku maezawa
Yusaku Maezawa
 SpaceX
  • Elon Musk and his rocket company, SpaceX, plan to launch a private passenger named Yusaku Maezawa around the moon.
  • Yusaku Maezawa is a Japanese entrepreneur and art collector. If all goes according to plan, Maezawa will take a lunar voyage on the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR: a launch system that SpaceX is developing to colonize Mars.

  • Maezawa purchased all seats on the spaceship, and plans to select six to eight artists from a variety of disciplines to take the lunar journey with him in 2023.

  • The mission won’t land on the surface of the moon but will ferry Maezawa and his artist crewmates around Earth’s natural satellite.

HAWTHORNE, California — Elon Musk and his rocket company, SpaceX, have revealed who will fly their spaceship around the moon for the first time: a Japanese entrepreneur and billionaire named Yusaku Maezawa.

“Finally I can tell you that I choose to go to the moon!” Maezawa said during an announcement Monday evening.

Maezawa also revealed that he has purchased all seats on the first crewed flight of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket— anew launch system that’s being designed to colonize Mars. Besides himself, Maezawa plans to select six to eight artists to accompany him on his journey around the moon. The artists have not yet been chosen, but part of the project will involve them creating work inspired by their lunar journey after they return to Earth.

“If you should hear from me, please say yes and accept my invitation. Please don’t say no,” Maezawa said.

SpaceX did not reveal how much Maezawa paid for the lunar flight, but said it was a significant sum and that he already made a down payment.

“He’s paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster,” Musk said on Monday. “He’s ultimately paying for the average citizen to travel to other planets.”

yusaku maezawa
Yusaku Maezawa
 SpaceX

Maezawa was a skateboarder and drummer in his youth, and founded the custom fashion company Zozo 20 years ago. The billionaire made news last year when he spent $110 million on a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. He said that he was inspired to bring a group of renowned artists with him around the moon after thinking of the masterpieces Basquiat would have created had he flown through space.

If all goes according to plan, Maezawa and his artist crew may become the first-ever private lunar tourists in history. The mission is slated to launch as soon as 2023, though Musk said he can’t be sure about that timeline yet.

Musk described Maezawa as incredibly brave.

“This is going to be dangerous. This is no walk in the park,” Musk said.

spacex moon mission big falcon rocket spaceship bfr bfs illustration
SpaceX’s rendering of a Big Falcon Rocket spaceship carrying a passenger around the moon.
SpaceX/Twitter

Musk also revealed some major design changes to the BFR. Instead of standing 347 feet tall, it will be 387 feet tall. It will have front actuator fins, as well as three back wings that will function as its landing pads.

The system’s spaceship, which will ride atop a rocket booster, is expected to carry up to 100 people and 150 tons of supplies.

SpaceX is currently prototyping the spaceship and other BFR hardware inside a 20,000-square-foot tent at the Port of Los Angeles — at least until a much bigger permanent facility is completed. The first portion of the system has already been built, Musk said.

The project is incredibly ambitious and expensive — the total development costs for BFR are somewhere between $2 billion and $10 billion, Musk said.

“It’s hard to say what the development cost is,” he said. “I think it’s roughly $5 billion”

Prior to Monday’s announcement, Musk last publicly described the BFR and showed renderings of the system at the 2017 International Aeronautical Congress.

Although the design for the exterior has been altered since then, Musk said on Monday that SpaceX still only has “some concepts” for the interior of the ship.

“What is the most fun you can have in zero G?” Musk said when asked about the interior design. “We’ll do that”

Aerospace experts who follow Musk and SpaceX’s activities suggest that there could likely be more iterations of the BFR design before the company’s first lunar voyage lifts off the launch pad.

“I think it is really healthy to see this iterative change happening, because I believe we can assume it is based on actual development and simulation going on,” Greg Autry, the director of the Southern California Spaceflight Initiative, told Business Insider in an email before Musk’s announcement.

But Musk said “this is the final iteration in terms of broad architectural design.”

spacex big falcon rocket bfr spaceship booster launch bfs bfb rendering illustration elon musk twitter
A Sept. 2018 rendering of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket launching through the cloud tops and toward space.
Elon Musk/SpaceX via Twitter

He added that SpaceX plans to shift a majority of the company’s engineering efforts towards BFR by the end of next year, and welcomes the growing competition in the private space race.

“Why is it 2018 and there’s no damn base on the moon?” Musk said. “We should have one and go there. A lot.”

This story is developing. Please refresh this page for updates.

Dana Varinsky contributed reporting to this post.

SEE ALSO: Elon Musk is building a spaceship that’s so ambitious that some experts are calling it ‘science fiction.’ Here’s what SpaceX and its engineers are up against.

DON’T MISS: Astronauts explain why nobody has visited the moon in more than 45 years — and the reasons are depressing

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