December 03, 2010 | 11 likes, 0 dislikes
Courtesy: United States Air Force, by Senior Airman Steve Bauer, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
12/2/2010 - VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- After more than a year of extensive preparation, Vandenberg is ready to host the landing of the Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle scheduled to occur here between Friday, Dec. 3, and Monday, Dec. 6.
The X-37B is the latest and most advanced re-entry space vehicle capable of being launched into low Earth orbit altitudes and is able to endure extended periods of time performing space technology experimentation and testing.
"This is a historical first, not only for Vandenberg Air Force Base, but for the Air Force and our nation to receive a recoverable spacecraft here and really take a step forward in advancing unmanned space flight," said Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander.
On April 22, a United Launch Alliance-built Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle carrying the X-37B was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Prior to the X-37B's East Coast departure, the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, which is leading the Department of Defense's Orbital Test Vehicle initiative, needed the assurance before launching the vehicle that Vandenberg was prepared for the landing of the spacecraft. Following a request, preparation for landing became a high priority at Vandenberg, which required a cumulative effort of base personnel in order for approval of the X-37B landing here.
In one instance, a team of about 80 people from the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, 30th Launch Group, 581st Missile Maintenance Squadron, 30th Operations Support Squadron's airfield operations flight and Vandenberg's Training Device Design and Engineering Center assembled to replaced 658 plates along the flightline's centerline to increase the levelness of the airstrip and to prevent a puncturing hazard to the X-37B's landing wheels.
In another example, Vandenberg's mission flight control officers have been preparing for the landing of the spacecraft by practicing various scenarios that could occur during a landing attempt and the procedures to complete the task of monitoring the vehicle from its de-orbit stage to its landing on flightline.
"I am as prepared as I am for every mission; we have seen every case and have talked about cases that we haven't seen," said 1st Lt. Pierre Gregoire, 2nd Range Operations Squadron mission flight control officer. "We are looking at every possible situation that can occur to the vehicle and what we're going to do in that situation."
Receiving a vehicle as opposed to launching one from Vandenberg has challenged the MFCOs to slightly modify their approach to their normal mission preparation.
"The procedures and terminology have changed a little bit, but as you can imagine, the one thing that hasn't changed is the focus on public safety," Lieutenant Gregoire said. "How we train for the mission really hasn't changed except for the fact that we have a little bit less of an archived history to go off of and it adds a little more excitement to be doing something for the first time."
The excitement has been mounting at Vandenberg as the historical landing of the Air Force spacecraft approaches.
"With it being such a unique mission for the base, it is exciting to be a part of this historic landing," said Capt. Dariusz Wudarzewski, 2nd ROPS range operations commander. "For how long we have been working on it, I think everyone is really excited to see it culminate."
On November 17, 2006, the U.S. Air Force announced it would develop the X-37B from the NASA X-37A. The Air Force version is designated X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). The OTV program builds on industry and government investments by DARPA, NASA and the Air Force. The X-37B effort will be led by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and includes partnerships with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Boeing is the prime contractor for the OTV program. The X-37B can remain in orbit for up to 270 days at a time. The Secretary of the Air Force states the OTV program will focus on "risk reduction, experimentation, and operational concept development for reusable space vehicle technologies, in support of long term developmental space objectives."
The X-37B was originally scheduled for launch in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle, but following the Columbia accident, it was transferred to a Delta II 7920. It was subsequently transferred to a shrouded configuration on the Atlas V following concerns over the unshrouded spacecraft's aerodynamic properties during launch. The first orbital flight of the first X-37B, named USA-212, was launched on an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on April 22, 2010, at 23:58 GMT. The spacecraft was placed into low Earth orbit for testing. While the U.S. Air Force revealed few orbital details after the first X-37B was successfully placed in orbit due to the secretive nature of the mission, amateur astronomers claimed to have identified the experimental spacecraft in orbit and shared their findings. A worldwide network of amateur astronomers reportedly determined, as of May 22, 2010, that it was in an inclination of 39.99 degrees, circling the Earth once every 90 minutes in an orbit 401 by 422 kilometres (249 by 262 mi).
Following their missions, X-37B spacecraft are to land on a runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, with Edwards Air Force Base as an alternate site. A second X-37B is being manufactured for a test mission scheduled for 2011. The China Daily newspaper wrote that the X-37B program raised concerns about an arms race in space. The Xinhua News Agency took a more moderate tone in questioning if the secretive program might lead to weapons in space. The Pentagon has strongly denied claims that the X-37B's mission supports the development of space-based weapons. A group of amateur sky watchers with members around the globe has concluded that the spacecraft's mission is to support space-based surveillance and reconnaissance technology; they reported the X-37B's track took it over North Korea, Afghanistan and other trouble spots. According to them, the spacecraft passes over the same given spot on Earth every four days, and operates at altitude of 255 miles (410 km), which would be typical for a military surveillance satellite.
The X-37B sits on the runway at Vandenberg AFB
The U.S. Air Force announced on November 30, 2010, that the X-37 would return for a landing during the December 3-6 timeframe. As scheduled, the X-37B de-orbited, reentered Earth's atmosphere, and landed at Vandenberg AFB on December 3, 2010, at 1:16 a.m. PST (0916 UTC). Source: Wikipedia