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Two-Stage-to-Orbit Spaceplane Program Shelved 135

MadMorf writes "According to this article in Aviation Week, for nearly twenty years the USAF and "a team of aerospace contractors" has designed, built and tested a two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane, which could be used for "reconnaissance, satellite-insertion and, possibly, weapons delivery". Now this highly classified project may have been shelved for budgetary reasons."
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Two-Stage-to-Orbit Spaceplane Program Shelved

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:00AM (#14857714)
    sure it has. ;-) Probably just means it went operational.
    • Probably just means it went operational.

      We'll just have to check out Area 51 for strange occurrences to find that out...
      • <crackpot>
        Word on the street is that Area 51 was decommissioned for top secret projects about 20 years ago. Everyone knows about it, so it's not a very good place for secrets. However, if they keep it well guarded and use it for classified research projects, they can create the illusion of it still being active without potentially giving away too much information. They can also use it for disinformation by working on things that are not the primary focus of current projects.

        Or maybe they just want
        • The real word on the street is that although they say Area 51 was decommissioned, there is just as much activity there now as there was before it's 'decommission'. There are just not as many interested viewers watching the 'happenins. Just remember, when the big policeman says "show's over folks, everybody move along now", how many goody-two-shoes do actually walk away"? And how many hardened self-taught investigators remain to see what corruption may take place?
        • <conspiracy>
          So what you're saying is that Area 51 exists just to draw attention away from Area 52? We'll just have to check there instead, once we've found it.
          Or perhaps that's what they want us to think, so continue to do all reseach at Area 51; where better to hide than in plane sight, right?
          </conspiracy>
        • Not all that crack pot. A lot of sitings where around the Salt Lake area. It is possible that Dugway is the site of it's primary base. Try and find high res images of dugway on any map:)
    • > Probably just means it went operational.

      More likely the money was reallocated to a "need" that would give Halliburton the biggest cut.
  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by jimbo3123 ( 320148 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:00AM (#14857719) Homepage
    So, now the program that "Doesn't exist" doesn't exist any more.
    • exactly.

      Considerable evidence supports the existence of such a highly classified system, and top Pentagon officials have hinted that it's "out there," but iron-clad confirmation that meets AW&ST standards has remained elusive. Now facing the possibility that this innovative "Blackstar" system may have been shelved, we elected to share what we've learned about it with our readers, rather than let an intriguing technological breakthrough vanish into "black world" history, known to only a few insiders.

      so,
      • Aviation Week and Space Technology has long been known as "Aviation Leak". They spend a lot of time looking for things that are not often reported. They have lots of contacts in the industry. It sounds like they hit some dead ends and decided to report it anyway.

        It is just me or does it sound like a bigger, more complex version of SpaceShip One? Your tax dollars at work.

        • Re:So... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by delong ( 125205 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @12:54PM (#14858861)
          It is just me or does it sound like a bigger, more complex version of SpaceShip One? Your tax dollars at work

          Yeah, a bigger more complex version of SpaceShipOne that reaches orbit. Just like SpaceShipOne, a suborbital craft!
          • Yeah, a bigger more complex version of SpaceShipOne that reaches orbit. Just like SpaceShipOne, a suborbital craft!

            Actually, after reading the article it appears that this suposed craft is also suborbital. That said, if the reports are true, then it existed quite a while before SpaceShipOne.

            • Actually, after reading the article it appears that this suposed craft is also suborbital


              The article repeatedly refers to the ship as "orbital". And it indicates that it can be suborbital or LEO depending on the needs of the mission.

              From the Article:

              If mission requirements dictate, the spaceplane can either reach low Earth orbit or remain suborbital

              The US government had a SpaceShipOne-like suborbital spaceplane/rocket, air launched, in the X-15 - decades before Rutan. That doesn't detract from Scaled's ac
    • > So, now the program that "Doesn't exist" doesn't exist any more.

      "I saw a man who wasn't there,
      A little man upon a stair,
      He wasn't there again today,
      Gee, I wish he'd go away."

      The XB-70 Valkyrie is one of the most beautiful [unrealaircraft.com] aircraft ever built.

      Count me among those who hopes the AvLeak story is true; I can think of no better memorial to her designers and pilots than to have seen their work continued.

    • If it's so highly classified, whats it doing on /.?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:02AM (#14857725)
    Slashdot reports this spaceplane being shelved as a certain fact. Even the article can't report it as certain. It's mostly conjecture and hearsay at this point.

    When did slashdot turn into the Weekly World News? First it was political conspiracy theories, not this. It's getting ridiculous.
    • It turned into Weekly World News when Bat Boy and reborn baby Elivis took over editing and mod duties.
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:26AM (#14857957) Homepage Journal
      'When did slashdot turn into the Weekly World News? "
      Actually Aviation Week is a very good source. It is often called Aviation Leak by people in the military. Some of this makes a lot of sense. I was reading that Redstone arsenal got rid of some of the last of it's Pentaborane not too long ago and that they had disposed of a large supply of it at Edwards as well.
      Pentaborane is some very nasty stuff and the Air Force was supposed to have stopped development of it way back in the 60s.
      Lots of people have been reporting an XB-70 like aircraft flying around the south west around Groom Lake. There is also the law suits about toxic chemicals that some black project workers have been exposed to. A borane compound really fits that bill. I would have to give this a probable. It would just be a development of work done on the X-30 and XB-70 projects from the 60s.
      It makes a lot more sense than UFOs at Groom Lake.
      • by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @03:25PM (#14860452)
        It's not that Aviation Weekly is a bad source, but the Slashdot submission discussed the planes existance as fact. The AW article said there were unconfirmed reports of a possible plane and orbiter. It's also possible that over-zealous AW readers saw SR-71's launching drones, and thought they were something cooler (yes, cooler than an SR-71, if you can believe that).

        This isn't uncommon. There have also been reports of a flying wing stealth reconnaisance plane referred to as the TR-3. More concretely, there was a lot of speculation during the 80's that the air force was developing a stealth fighter called the F-19 Ghostrider. The Air Force made a bit of fuss when drawings of it were leaked, the Wall Street Journal discussed it, Revell created a plastic model kit of it, and even Tom Clancy featured the plane in Red Storm Rising. It turned out the leak was a misleading cover up to help keep the true design of the F-117 secret, which flew for several years before being made public.
        • At the air museum at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson AZ has an SR-71 on display AND an SR-71 drone. If you think the SR-71 is cool looking, check out the drone it could launch.

          I was lucky enough to be there the day they let folks sit in the cockpit of the SR-71.

          Very nice.
        • And yet each tends to have a bit of truth. The TR-3 probably was a drone called the Tier-3 which was cancelled. Still nothing in this report is all that far fetched except maybe that it is manned. I could see a cheap one shot drone as the payload. During the overflight it could transmit the data to a satellite and then burn up or in later version be recovered at a landing strip. Just how big of stretch would that be over the Pegasus?
          • This story also seems to have some seeds of truth. It's not surprise that the witnesses claim it looked sort of like an XB-70. The performance discussed also matches that of an XB-70, and according to the article, the Air Force had enough spare parts on hand to actually build a third XB-70 protoype.

            I don't know if the craft would even necessarily have to be unmanned. The Pegasus is not a very large rocket, and it's launched at about 1/4 the speed (1/16 the KE, assuming the same mass) this supposed space
    • Ummm....AW&ST is a reputable publication, and does NOT equate the Weekly World News...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The bad news dept. seems wrong. I think this should be under the nothing to see here really nothing to see here dept.
  • Did it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 3CRanch ( 804861 )
    Did it really get shelved?

    [conspiracy theory]
    Supposedly we have an uber top secret project has been ongoing for 16 years. We have a group that has been probing into it for the full time. Maybe the group got close and the gov't decided to release info that it has been "shelved". The group redeems itself by posting the information and stops following the secret program. The gov't smiles and continues without watchful eyes.
    [/conspiracy theory]

    Maybe?
    • So... your theory is that some group has been closely following the progress of a black ops type project for over a decade, a project that in theory they never should have known existed yet they were devious enough to discover... and they'll be thrown completely off the trail by speculation that the project was cancelled? Somehow I doubt that.

    • I really don't think that this was uber-top-secret, and some group was pursuing this full time, and got close.

      That, considering that for the 1987 Bourget Airshow, NASA contracted with Va Tech to have built an 80' model of the NASP (National Air/Space Plane). People walked under it as they entered the US Pavillion, and a bunch of students stood under it, explaining in extremely broken French (or English, as possible) what the display was all about.

      I know, I was there. The labor in building the thing, plus
  • by Isca ( 550291 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:11AM (#14857800)
    I'll bet that if they have retired this, they've determined that the can do the same with unmanned drones, or a smaller unmanned satelite system that's launched as one piece package.

    My money is on the drones, however. Some of the newer models can orbit at close to 100k feet for long periods of time, and are so small hard to spot that they might as well be satellites. Also, if they've been successful enough with hiding the sats that are launched, as in last month's Wired article (discussed here on slashdot) [slashdot.org] then maybe they don't need as much quick launch capability.

    • 100k "drones"? (Score:2, Informative)

      by mnemonic_ ( 164550 )
      Could you please name a single "drone" with a 100k ft. cruising altitude? Or to be more blunt, did you just make that up? I've researched UAV technology pretty extensively and haven't heard of any that fly that high. NASA/Scaled's Proteus and the RQ-4 Global Hawk have only reached about 65k, while the SR-71. I believe the D-21 could reach 100k from its launch platform (SR-71 at 75k), but that died out in the 1960s.
      • Re:100k "drones"? (Score:3, Informative)

        by Isca ( 550291 )
        Nothing that is offically anounced, but it's been done already, with just some tweaking to make it better.

        First up, A solar powered UAV [wikipedia.org] that was tested 3 years ago to reach near 100k. Now, I'll grant that it wasn't a production model, but who's to say with a bit of black technology and a much larger budget this hasn't been duplicated?

        There's also multiple models of blimp based technology, such as this [videsignline.com] or this [msn.com]. Now, granted, the blimps would be a bit harder to hide from, but then again, if it's there 2
  • space plane (Score:2, Informative)

    by mytrip ( 940886 )
    This is a shame. I remember talk of this when I was in aerospace in the late 90s. I am of the opinion that most of the progress to be made on this type of thing is going to be done in the private sector and therefore the technology will be available to our enemies as well.
    • I'll bet if this did somehow cross the president's desk and he had to make a choice between spending dollars in Iraq and this, the thought that private enterprise is doing the same probably did cross his mind. Of course, the next thought would be, who can we buy this tech from that will donate heavily to the next republican candidate, for an exclusive overpriced nobid contract. ;)
    • I am of the opinion that most of the progress to be made on this type of thing is going to be done in the private sector and therefore the technology will be available to our enemies as well.

      Just because something is done by the private sector, even with private funding, doesn't mean that the technology will be available to our enemies. The government can still classify it if they really want to keep it hidden, and even without that there's ITAR to deal with. ITAR is so scary that most companies take an

  • Wishful thinking (Score:4, Interesting)

    by codell ( 714441 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:13AM (#14857823)
    I *want* to believe, but I doubt seriously if we have achieved this just yet. It would take a major breakthrough in fuel technology and/or hypersonic flight to make it from 100,000 ft. to 300 miles, even starting at mach 3. A craft the size of this hypothetical spaceplane would need a huge amount of fuel for that, not to mention heavy heat shielding a la the STS. I'm betting the NRO has found much cheaper methods of quietly getting satellites into unannounced orbits.
    • Re:Wishful thinking (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman@gmai ... inus threevowels> on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:36AM (#14858063) Homepage Journal
      It would take a major breakthrough in fuel technology and/or hypersonic flight to make it from 100,000 ft. to 300 miles, even starting at mach 3.

      What makes you say that? We've had the technology for this sort of thing for quite a long time. The reason why the Space Shuttle sucks so much is:

      • It carries the largest payload of any rocket currently flying, despite design recommendations to the contrary.
      • Its budget was cut up into smaller yearly parcels, thus resulting in changes to the craft that would fit development within the yearly budgets.
      • The craft is designed to be both a heavy cargo hauler and human transport for no other reason than because we can. This increased the vehicle's complexity by an order of magnitude.
      • The Space Shuttle pioneered and/or was used to perfect many of the technologies built into its design. By now there should be a Shuttle-II system that uses that knowledge in a newer, safer, and more compact vehicle. Unfortunately, a lot of money was spent on more pie-in-the-sky endevors like compact SSTOs utiliziing bleeding-edge rocket technology.


      That being said, the Space Shuttle is a marvel of engineering. The engineers were merely given a task that didn't make sense (combine cargo and human lifting), and the space vehicle industry has suffered from a lack of follow-up.

      A craft the size of this hypothetical spaceplane would need a huge amount of fuel for that

      All rockets do. The entire point of the Rocket Equation is to figure out the percentage of mass that will need to be expended using a given propulsion method. That's why the shuttle weighs 2 kilotonnes on the pad just to get 135ish tonnes into orbit. Or in percentages, about 6.75% of the Shuttle's mass makes it to orbit. The rest is either burned or discarded.
      • All rockets do.

        All rockets that launch from sea level at least. Most of the lower altitude ascent is fighting the atmosphere, and the air density at 100000 ft is about 70x less dense than ASL. The "mothership" carries the orbiter beyond that with its air breathing scramjet. This vastly reduces the orbiter's fuel requirements and demonstrates the efficiency of hybrid propulsion systems (combined cycle chemical/airbreathing). Getting through those first 100000 feet is more than half the battle, and that's
      • I don't deny that that the Space Shuttle is a marvel of engineering, but scaling it down to the point where it could fit under by a YB-type carrier AND carry a decent payload just doesn't seem feasible, unless the Air Force has already mastered hypersonic flight with scramjets [nasa.gov].
        • scaling it down to the point where it could fit under by a YB-type carrier AND carry a decent payload just doesn't seem feasible

          Read the article. "Decent Equipment" in this case means "camera equipment" -OR- a microsat. In other words, it has poor cargo carrying capacity. Probably on the order of a tonne or less. The Space Shuttle has a maximum cargo capcity of ~27 tonnes plus a crew of five and various other equipment. (Depending on orbit and revision of vehicle.) The vehicle itself weighs about 109 tonnes
        • unless the Air Force has already mastered hypersonic flight with scramjets.

          Or some other propulsion system. Back circa late 1980s or early 1990s, AvLeak ran several articles on a possible hypersonic aircraft (or aerospacecraft?) that (they hypothesized) used a type of external burning pulse jet, with the aft part of the vehicle forming essentially an aerospike engine. Reports said that the vehicle left a characteristic "donuts on a string" vapor trail.

          It's possible that said vehicle was either the XOV
    • Orbital Science's Pegasus [designation-systems.net]already does this - launched from Tristar flying much lower and slower than this XB70 thing is supposed to have done. Can somebody who really knows about this do the actual math for us?
      • Re:Wishful thinking (Score:5, Informative)

        by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman@gmai ... inus threevowels> on Monday March 06, 2006 @02:32PM (#14859890) Homepage Journal
        Here's the math [wikipedia.org]. Plug in an Isp of about 400 for LHOx engines, a desired velocity of about 8.3 km/s [wikipedia.org], and a starting velocity of about 0.92 km/s.

        Taking the final velocity minus the starting velocity, we get a required Delta V of 7.38 km/s.
        Converting from Isp to exhaust velocity, we get (9.81 m/s * 400) = 3.924 km/s.

        Thus our equation looks like:

        m1 = m0 * 2.718^(-7.38 / 3.924)

        "m0" is the starting mass of your rocket, m1 is how much mass you'll have left after you achieve the required Delta V. So, if we take a 20 tonne starting craft (for example) and plug it into the equation, we get:

        m1 = 20,000 kg * 2.718^(-7.38 / 3.924)
        m1 = 3,050 kg [google.com]

        To get the ratio of fuel to craft, we compute 1-(3,050/20,000) to come up with a craft that is about 85% fuel, leaving about 15% as craft mass. Considering that the Space Shuttle only gets about 6.75% of its mass to orbit, 15% is pretty darn good.

        To compute the other way (how much fuel mass is needed for a given final mass), you can compute the following:

        m0 = m1 * 2.718^(7.38 / 3.924)

        If we assume a larger number than before (say, 20,000 kg of ship+cargo to orbit), we come up with the following figures:

        m0 = 20,000 kg * 2.718^(7.38 / 3.924)
        m0 = 131,140 kg

        Again, we see the same ratio (1 - (20,000 / 131,140) = ~85%), but the sizes have increased. The question is, could the Valkyrie (XB-70) carry 131,140 kg of spacecraft?

        Well, according to the specs I have [wikipedia.org], it had an empty weight of 93,000 kg, and a maximum takeoff weight of 250,000 kg. Maximum loaded capacity was 242,500 kg, so you can assume that the 8,000 kg difference is probably fuel expended to get off the ground. Doing some simple math (242,500 kg - 93,000 kg) we come to a final cargo capacity of 149,500 kg. Taking away the weight of our craft (149,500 kg - 131,140 kg) we find that the Valkyrie would have 18,360 kgs left over for fuel and other weight. That shaves it pretty close, but it's doable.

        If you assume that the Air Force has increased her Thrust to Weight ratio with some of the more powerful jet engines that have been designed since the 1960's, the margins actually look pretty darn good.

        Does that answer your question?
    • It would take a major breakthrough in fuel technology

      From the Article:

      WORK ON THE ORBITER moved at a relatively slow pace until a "fuel breakthrough" was made, workers were told. Then, from 1990 through 1991, "we lived out there. It was a madhouse," a technician said. The new fuel was believed to be a boron-based gel having the consistency of toothpaste and high-energy characteristics, but occupying less volume than other fuels
    • You're right that satelie launch can't justify this. Otherwise they would be strapping a pegasus rocket under the lancher, and letting it burn up on reentry. There is no doubt a reason to want the plane to shoot out on the other end of the flight and do something.
    • Hrm.

      The way I see things, if I find out that the military has spent all of the NASP / X-33 / A-12 / etc. money and any other misc. cost overruns and HASN'T used them to find anything particularly interesting, I'm going to be quite ticked off.

      I mean, it's pretty well known at this point that the reason why the DSRV went so far over budget was because the money went to feed a number of other underwater engineering tasks, like tapping Russian undersea cables.

      Aerospace black projects are nay but a fun game. Cr
  • History repeats! (Score:4, Informative)

    by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:15AM (#14857842)
    The USAF DynaSoar [deepcold.com] concept was considered and canned by 1963. So what else is new?
  • could it be that it was "cut" intentinally for exactly that headline
  • good. (Score:1, Insightful)

    Anything that is meant for inserting weapons into orbit should be shelved, IMNSHO. Maybe I'm spewing a bunch of "tree-hugging-hippy-crap", but I think it is best to keep weapons out of space.

    Can we not, as a species, keep at least one place free of war and hostility? I know, that is probably a really tall order, but come on, human-kind! Grow up already!

    BTW, I am by no means a luddite. I'm all about the space program and getting the human race a means to get off this planet. However, can we not leave these

    • Can we not, as a species, keep at least one place free of war and hostility? No. That's why we keep fighting over Antarctica. God damn penguins.
    • Re:good. (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by aminorex ( 141494 )
      The premise that not taking joy in mass murder makes you a caricature is questionable. I don't think so. You needn't kowtow to the brownshirts just because the voices of the genocidal class are strident and loud.
    • Re:good. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kesh ( 65890 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:30AM (#14857999)
      The fatal flaw in your argument is that any vehicle designed to put anything into space is capable of deploying weapons there.
      • Especially considering that anything that can survive reentry into the atmosphere with a substantial amount of mass intact is a deadly weapon.

        That's my one fear regarding easy access to space -- it makes me feel real vulnerable being down here at the bottom of the gravity well.
    • Anything that is meant for inserting weapons into orbit should be shelved, IMNSHO. Maybe I'm spewing a bunch of "tree-hugging-hippy-crap", but I think it is best to keep weapons out of space.

      If a verifiable international treaty were in place to prevent some types of weapons from being deployed I might agree with you. But unilaterally backing away from the weaponisation of space would be suicide for the US. Also, how do you define a space weapon? GPS can be used to guide a bomb through a terrorist's bedr

      • How arrogant, to think that 'democracy' and 'capitalism' (american style of course) once adopted by those savage backward countries, will lead to peace on earth. Also it is the height of huburis to think that these are the values and systems that are intrinsically better than all others that have ever been or ever will be.
        • by amightywind ( 691887 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @12:44PM (#14858755) Journal

          How arrogant, to think that 'democracy' and 'capitalism' (american style of course) once adopted by those savage backward countries

          'American style' is your embellishment, not my words. The need for democracy and capitalism is not so much derived form hubris as practical observation. What else to you suggest? Islamic faciscm? Stalinism? Maoist dictatorship?

        • Oh what the heck..... I am actually pleased with the poster that you are replying to took a stand and stated his preference for our system over the others... For too long (at least here in the States) we have had to suffer under this belief that all systems out there have some value and that none are superior to others. Its nice to see someone take a stand like he did and back our system of government and economy.
          And to back him up, I will also say that its a hell of a lot better than the other opt
        • Unless we take the dubious assumption that values and systems are all intrinsically of the same value, then there must be a value and system set that is superior.

          So it is hardly the height of hubris to think that it might be the American one. It might also not be. I don't know of anyone who claims that they are better than all others that have ever been or ever will be.

          But I doubt it is the Taliban one.
      • This is spot on. While it is nice to envision a society where weapons are not a necessity, we also need to keep reality in mind. The reality is that by not developing space-based weapons technology now, we are leaving ourselves open to a potentially devastating avenue of attack in the future.

        I am not saying we should put nukes in orbit, but we need to be prepare to respond should another country do just that. This is why programs such as this one are so vital. And I would put money on a bettet option
    • I just think you're foolishly, deliberately obtuse.

      It's funny how the "Blame America!" crowd decries our nation's attempts at influencing the attitudes and actions of other countries, yet somehow believes that the world will follow our lead if we declare space off limits to military weapons. Or worse, believes that we should deliberately weaken ourselves while we watch our enemies grow stronger.

      Do you really think the Chinese don't want space-based weapons? Do you think that North Korea wouldn't dep

    • by Goldenhawk ( 242867 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @12:28PM (#14858578) Homepage
      >It seems infinitely sad to me that the primary motivation
      >for most technological advance in the world is to come up
      >with a better means of killing others.

      I'm sure I'll burn some karma on this, but I would beg to differ.

      There is an interesting premise to Larry Niven's sci fi writing about the Kzin war - the Kzin telepaths reported to their masters that the humans had no military weaponry, and were sure to be an easy conquest. Yet when they first attacked, humanity threw them back in short order, because the civilian technology we DID have was so powerful it cut thru their military systems like butter.
      http://www.larryniven.org/kzin/empire.htm [larryniven.org]
      Hmmm.

      I see things a little differently, however. I work for the US military as a civilian, directly involved in the procurement of weapons of war. Anyone in our organization will immediately tell you that the goal is not to wage war, but to avoid it. Ronald Reagan knew this when he emphasized his "peace thru superior firepower" mantra. If we allow ourselves to become weaker than our foes, we will find war waged upon us, simply because it's possible. Granted, the only way to stay ahead is to work hard at it, and stay atop the technological king-of-the-hill game. To many (and apparently to this person) it looks as if we want the weapons so we can use them - but I assure you that the vast majority of soldiers, airmen and marines in this country want nothing to do with going to war. I have great respect for the armed services in America, because they are willing to put themselves in death's way to free others. But nobody that I've ever talked with had any interest in conquering another county for the sake of expanding our territory, or taking something that was not already ours.

      In the end, I find it fortunate that our military research ends up providing such dramatic benefits for the civilian world.
      • taking something that was not already ours.

        While this certainly looks like a noble clause I think if you look through history you will find many instances of wars starting by this very same reasoning. One nation (or one ruler if you really go back) assumes that 'something' rightfully belongs to them and then proceed to attempt to claim it back. I'm sure you could name at least a couple conflicts going on right now which could fall under that category. In some cases you could say that was just an excuse fo

      • Trouble is with war technology getting ever more sophisticated, eventually everyone has such powerful weapons that if war is waged everyone loses (mutually assured destruction). Then it only takes one madman to kill us all.
    • "The cynic in me doubts this is possible, but I really want to believe so."

      No, the realist in you doubts that weaponless space is possible.

      The cynic in you KNOWS that it is not possible.

      F-in Mondays...
    • The problem with this line of thinking is the control of weapons (be it in space or any place) requires some kind of penalty for non-compliance that will force compliance. And herein is the flaw. Unless EVERYONE agrees to comply, those who beg compliance will either have to become slaves to those who refuse to comply, or will have to non comply in order to bring into check those who non comply.
  • Back in the day.. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Some time ago when the USAF wanted a stealth aircraft, the request for one was made semi-public.
    It was featured in aviation week, and funding was displayed in the budget too.
    There was no need to hide it according the the airforce, as nobody knew if such an aircraft could be made.
    But after the skunkworks built and flew the Have blue prototype, the entire project turned black overnight.
    All information about it disappeared, from the requests to the budgets. That convinced everyone that the project was real, an
  • I'm not sure of the significance of this. There have been many past attempts at more unique delivery vehicles such as this that fail due to budgetary reasons. The major obstacle to putting things in space, even for the military, is how expensive it is, and some things just aren't more economical than the good old fashioned Werner Von Braun rocket approach.

    As far as the other aspects of this for USAF purposes, ie, recon, they have been superceded by other technologies that have emerged and evolved since i

    • The military and intelligence agencies aren't motivated primarily by cost or efficiency of method, but by its military or intelligence advantage.

      A rocket launch is immediately identifiable by foreign satellite intelligence. That is how the Soviets and Americans verified arms control treaties during the Cold War, and it is the basis of Cold War nuclear-launch "early warning" systems. A rocket launch has no surprise value.

      An air-launched space plane (or even an air-launched space rocket), however, is a diff
  • It's the best Propaganda/Misinformation outlet the US military has.
  • Maybe if they worked under the auspices of the public, such a project would fly.

    Wouldn't doubt it if this ball gets picked up by some private company.
    Seems like the best method of achieving orbit, imo.
  • I can foresee that by going on with budget cuts, in the end 100% of the budget will be used to pay just salaries with no project, research or other interesting thing.
    Useless projects will make the magics for the rest!
  • I don't understand why this could not be a replacement for the soon-to-be-scrapped shuttle program. After reading the article, it seems that this thing was up and running. Why not turn it over to NASA rather than placing it into some hidden hanger to collect dust?

    • Re:Shuttle? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Spy Handler ( 822350 )
      it probably couldn't carry enough payload for shuttle-style missions.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    A friend of mine is working on the engines for a single stage to orbit vehicle [reactionengines.co.uk]. It's an interesting project although a long way from becoming operational.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    AFAIR, that British project handled the fuel requirements by switching from air-breathing to internal oxygen once it got high enough. It had a revolutionary motor that could use both.

    Perhaps they sold it to Lockheed?
  • by Thagg ( 9904 ) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Monday March 06, 2006 @12:34PM (#14858646) Journal
    In recent years, Aviation Week has become somewhat more conservative about its coverage -- it's a little disappointing in some ways, as now they are often the last place to publish something -- but they are very rarely mistaken about a scoop like this.

    They often publish photographs of planes, too, and leave the interpretation up to the reader. For example, they published the first photos of Rutan's White Knight, the carrier for SpaceshipOne. The White Knight/SpaceshipOne system flies a profile very similar to the one described by this current article, although with much lower performance.

    Anyway, AvWeek published the White Knight photos with no description of the plane's mission, but any informed reader would immediately recognize it as a spaceplane first stage. Once Rutan announced the program, they covered it completely, but until they knew for sure they didn't say anything. For them to describe this Blackstar system in this explicit detail, I am certain that all their ducks are in a row -- and barcoded.

    Thad Beier
    • It's not at all an unreasonable claim either. The usaf has been researching skip bombers and other space planes since the early 60's. I would be disappointed with the feds if they didn't do at least some research in the area. They then shelved it because the military could get the real work of the system done in other, less-expensive ways. It's a damn nuisance that a B-2 has to fly for hours, refuel a few times just to get from the midwest to the midle-east, drop some bombs and then go home. However, it's p
  • Back in the day when AvWeek was fat with cold war coverage, that was their nickname - good to see that they're back! Boeing, Airbus, RJs & the airline bankruptcy du jour was getting a little boring.
  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:01PM (#14858951) Journal
    There's some pretty good coverage of the supposed Blackstar spaceplane over on Clark Lindsey's RLV News [rlvnews.com]. According to the latest post [hobbyspace.com], the existence of the project as previously described is looking rather dubious. Here's what Lindsey wrote:

    Despite the many details provided by AvWeek about the purported Blackstar program, the existence of an "operational" TSTO reusable system seems wildly inconsistent with what has been happening with all the rest of the government space programs since the early 1990s and with what they have planned for the next couple of decades.

    - As a reader already commented, NASA's whole approach to space transport is based on the claim that fully reusable space vehicles are not feasible with current technologies.
    - DARPA has had programs like Falcon and RASCAL (canceled due to cost overruns) that are intended to provide "responsive space" capability. For the next 5-10 years, this simply means launching microsats on short notice. Why not just use Blackstar or build on its capabilities?
    - Why would a system like the Blackstar be "shelved" when it is so far beyond what anyone else is flying and beyond what the rest of the government claims is even feasible?
    - The magazine article speculates that the program was run directly or indirectly by an intelligence agency and they managed to kept it secret from even "top military space commanders". So how did they manage to fly this thing to orbit and not have it show up on the military's space tracking system?
    - In a government where secrets seem to stay secret only until more than one person knows about them, I find it extremely hard to believe a huge program like this could be kept under wraps for over 10 years. And not just from the public but from most of the military and NASA.

    If it was the beginning of April, I would take this whole thing to be a big leg-puller.

    If we were still in the 1980s, I would assume AvWeek had been led astray by a disinformation campaign aimed at the Soviets. But the Soviets are gone so I'm not sure why anyone in the Pentagon or the Intelligence agencies would bother to run an elaborate spaceplane ruse other than perhaps to get back at AvWeek for breaking so many stories about secret programs over the past several decades...

    A design study program and some prototype tests, maybe, but a secret operational orbital system borders on sci-fi. I like sci-fi and I hope this story is true but I'll wait for independent confirmation before I'll buy it.
  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @01:16PM (#14859096) Journal
    Coincidentally, this news about the USAF's secret vehicle comes out on the same day as news that SpaceX has spent some of their money during the past few years secretly developing the first private manned orbital spacecraft. There's coverage on both SpaceRef [spaceref.com] and Space.com [space.com]. The capsule will be reusable and is targetted at NASA's recently-announced COTS program for commercial deliveries of crew and cargo to the International Space Station. It's also likely that they'll be using the capsule to compete for Bigelow Aerospace's prize [bigelowaerospace.com] for a privately-built manned vehicle capable of docking with their private space station modules.

    A quote from the Space.com article:

    Musk said he thinks Dragon can be ready to enter service in 2009 - a full year before the shuttle is expected to conduct its last flight.

    "I feel very confident about being able to offer NASA an ISS-servicing capability by 2009 and am prepared to back that up with my own funding," Musk said.

    Dragon's initial test flights would be conducted from SpaceX's island launch facility in the Kwajalein Atoll, Musk said, with operational flights to be conducted from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

    Musk said SpaceX proposed several different configurations of Dragon in order to meet NASA's needs to deliver both pressurized and unpressurized cargo loads to the station and bring some materials back. He also proposed a crewed version capable of carrying up to seven astronauts to and from the station.


    From the SpaceRef article:

    Visitors to SpaceX's El Segundo facility over the past several years have noticed an area which is roped off - one they cannot get close to - with some large hardware covered up. Underneath those covers are a variety of Dragon protoypes and developmental items produced over the past several years.

    Initial designs for Dragon were somewhat similar to a blunt nose version of the DC-X - complete with landing legs. Driven by additional thinking - and the emerging demands of a cargo and human transport business for the ISS - the design of Dragon has been modified and the crew capsule portion of the spacecraft now sports a more conventional blunt conical, capsule-like design with a 15-degree slope angle.
  • Brilliant Buzzard finally goes white.

    Amazing.

    Think of the technology here that could have been
    applied to other things such as retiring the space
    shuttle, etc.

    Scaled up, this could have been quite interesting.

    There were reports of this thing flying all over.

    See Dan Zinngrabe's old Black Dawn black aircraft
    site for information.

    This is the first I've heard that the aircraft dropped
    from the belly of the aircraft - most of the reports
    had it that the orbiter took off from the back of the
    larger bird.
  • For those who wanted information on this thing, see:

    http://members.macconnect.com/users/q/quellish/daw n.spml [macconnect.com]

    It's old information but still interesting many
    have seen this thing.

    The two VTOL Stealth aircraft I spotted in
    outstate Minnesota back in 1989 haven't come
    into the white world yet - some of these
    things languish in classified museums.
  • Surely you remember the line in the film "Notting Hill" where Anna (reading from a script) says:
    'No, turn over 4 TRS's and tell them we
    need radar feedback before the KFT's
    return at 19 hundred -- then inform the
    Pentagon that we'll be needing Blackstar
    cover from ten hundred through
    12.15' -- and don't you dare say one
    word about how many mistakes I made in
    that speech or I'll pelt you with
    olives.
  • by twifosp ( 532320 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @04:16PM (#14861051)
    Lots of complaints in this thread about this article. Calling Slashdot the Weekly World News ect. Yet in the "Games: Gold Buying - Time Saver or Cheating?", people are taking it as seriously as possible. And let's not forget the "George Lucas Predicts Death of Big Budget Movies". Honestly... this is probably the best news story of the day. Sad.
  • The likely reason is the Air Force's multiple billion dollar budget shortfall. Blame that on El Presidente.

    There's talk of cutting many classified programs due to money. All that jet fuel for the war effort and that ordnance are expensive. I have heard confirmation that government contractors will be cut from several bases; civilians and military are getting RIF'ed too.

    • All that jet fuel for the war effort and that ordnance are expensive. I have heard confirmation that government contractors will be cut from several bases; civilians and military are getting RIF'ed too.

      My guess would be that at this point, three years into the game, most of the $300B? $400B? however much we have spent [and are spending] on Iraq is going to schools, hospitals, the power grid, water treatment plants, sewage treatment facilities, etc etc etc.

      Most of what the DOD is paying on traditional s

      • Actually, fuel is one of the big costs. The next is food and water. After that it's salaries and small arms ammunition. The nation-building stuff comes from a separate budget item that is approved by Congress. There will be some retirements out of the Air Force inventory in the near future due to budget reasons.

        • Actually, fuel is one of the big costs. The next is food and water. After that it's salaries and small arms ammunition. The nation-building stuff comes from a separate budget item that is approved by Congress. There will be some retirements out of the Air Force inventory in the near future due to budget reasons.

          Do you have any links to - ah - how could I say it, more or less non-partisan studies of how the money is being spent?

          I'm not talking the raving lunatic KOS/Moveon nonsense, but a serious, bean-

          • No. I can't provide a link to the numbers for two reasons: first, my source is one that I can't release, and the second is that the DoD hasn't had a good track record with their accounting of the "nation building" stuff in Iraq.

            But, since the invasion ended, the US has put about 60-80 billion towards rebuilding efforts (this from skimming GAO reports). The military operations side of things is more expensive. You have a carrier group in the Persian gulf. You have bases operated and maintained all ove

            • No. I can't provide a link to the numbers for two reasons: first, my source is one that I can't release, and the second is that the DoD hasn't had a good track record with their accounting of the "nation building" stuff in Iraq... I know for a fact that many classified things are getting cut due precisely to the war effort. And I know for a fact that the Air Force has been scrambling to figure out how to come out okay with a several-billion dollar shortfall. (I think it's 6 billion, but I'm not exactly sur

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