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posted by n1 on Friday April 11 2014, @01:24AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the public-relations-tools-for-secret-missions dept.

The Air Force has had a robotic spacecraft in orbit for a year and a half, speculation predicts a testbed for spying apparatus.

Rumors abound. One of the most popular is the X-37B can sneak up and eavesdrop on other satellites. The idea does have appeal, but skeptics point out the U.S. already has other smaller, harder to track satellites to do just that.

Can anyone think of better ideas for what they could be using this technology for, or is it just a reusable satellite?

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  • (Score: 2) by mhajicek on Friday April 11 2014, @02:08AM

    by mhajicek (51) on Friday April 11 2014, @02:08AM (#29801)

    The polka.

    --
    The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
    • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Friday April 11 2014, @02:33AM

      by c0lo (156) on Friday April 11 2014, @02:33AM (#29818) Journal

      What is the X-37B Doing Up There?

      Primarily, orbiting.
      If it wouldn't do this in the first place, my guess that anything else it was designed to do would be superfluous.

      --
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
    • (Score: 3, Funny) by davester666 on Friday April 11 2014, @04:11AM

      by davester666 (155) on Friday April 11 2014, @04:11AM (#29850)

      Falling...always falling...

      • (Score: 2) by threedigits on Friday April 11 2014, @07:51AM

        by threedigits (607) on Friday April 11 2014, @07:51AM (#29905)

        And missing the ground. Again and again.

        It's a great knack.

    • (Score: 2) by rts008 on Friday April 11 2014, @08:00AM

      by rts008 (3001) on Friday April 11 2014, @08:00AM (#29910)

      That's enough justification for someone to blast it out of existence!

      I truly DETEST polkas!

      Time to scrub my brain with a bottle brush and bleach to stop that soundloop inside my head(no thanks to you) of 'Beer barrel Polka', you insensitive clod!

      • (Score: 1) by egcagrac0 on Friday April 11 2014, @09:26AM

        by egcagrac0 (2705) on Friday April 11 2014, @09:26AM (#29930)

        "Who stole the Keeshka?" is the one that annoys me, although "Pennsylvania Polka" is more likely to get stuck in my head. Beer Barrel Polka... not so much.

        Good luck.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11 2014, @02:13AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11 2014, @02:13AM (#29803)

    The weapons will take out satellites and also have launch capability for use against
    terrestrial targets.

    Best not to live near any urban centers for the foreseeable future.

    • (Score: 1) by Peristaltic on Friday April 11 2014, @02:38AM

      by Peristaltic (3122) on Friday April 11 2014, @02:38AM (#29821)

      >The weapons will take out satellites and also have launch capability for use against terrestrial targets.

      Not necessarily- Satellites can be fragile machines. It wouldn't take much more than a small handful of pellets moving at a decent relative velocity to do a lot of damage to one.

      • (Score: 4, Interesting) by anubi on Friday April 11 2014, @03:30AM

        by anubi (2828) on Friday April 11 2014, @03:30AM (#29832) Journal

        My guess is you could easily take one out with a 22 rifle round. They oughta work in space as well as on Earth.

        However, my guess, as big as this thing is, its big enough to carry a payload of guided depleted-uranium "telephone poles". [wikipedia.org]

        You select a target, de-orbit one of these poles, and send it to where you want something static ( like a concrete bunker ) to disappear. Uranium [wikipedia.org] ( alloyed with tungsten ) makes a good metal for a pole like this, as it is very heavy, hard, and one helluva melting point, and we have a surplus of it. You need to make your guidance system last just long enough to do its job, keeping it cool by evaporating something during re-entry. This is a kinetic weapon... needs no explosive. The radioactive properties of the uranium are not in play. Getting hit with a ten ton* telephone pole traveling at several thousand MPH is an experience one won't soon forget. Even if you think several hundred feet of reinforced concrete can stop it.

        This isn't too effective for civil problems, as that would like trying to deal with a roach infestation with a sherman tank. However, it does give the leaders the shimmies... and that's who counts anyway.

        Even if nothing else, just the fear its up there and there's nothing they can do about it.

        ( Even if the thing's empty, if the other guy does not know it, the fear and intimidation factor is very real if the "enemy" is led to believe it has this kind of weapon to dispense onto his bunker. )

        * From wikipedia links... 1 ft dia, 20 ft long is about 16 cubic feet, or about 450,000 cm^3, which given density of uranium is 19.1 grams/cm^3 gives about 8,600,000 grams , which Google tells me is a shade under 10 tons.

        --
        "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
        • (Score: 1) by Peristaltic on Friday April 11 2014, @03:45AM

          by Peristaltic (3122) on Friday April 11 2014, @03:45AM (#29836)
          I remember an old Larry Niven story that either described or used in the plot what you described- He called the weapons "Rods from God".
          • (Score: 2) by anubi on Friday April 11 2014, @04:09AM

            by anubi (2828) on Friday April 11 2014, @04:09AM (#29848) Journal

            Yeh.. I just had submitted my post and another Soylenter, Tathra, mentioned it as well while I was composing my comment.

            I had just remembered discussing it before in other techie groups and thought I would drop it over here.

            Kinda scary stuff we can do given government backing. Given this amount of technology and its deadly accurate results, it is no longer necessary to take out an entire country... just keep its leaders in awe of your power to give them a really bad day. Personally. Then those leaders will obey whoever controls those rods. Its amazing how when a leader is personally affected by his decision, his decision will change.

            --
            "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
            • (Score: 2) by mhajicek on Friday April 11 2014, @01:32PM

              by mhajicek (51) on Friday April 11 2014, @01:32PM (#30028)

              Now what if whoever controls the rods isn't congress and the president?

              --
              The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11 2014, @04:53AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11 2014, @04:53AM (#29868)

          So project thor got built finally.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinetic_bombardment
        • (Score: 2) by TheLink on Friday April 11 2014, @06:58AM

          by TheLink (332) on Friday April 11 2014, @06:58AM (#29895) Journal

          The link at one part says one of those rods weighs more than 9 tons at another part it mentions a 6.1 m × 0.3 m tungsten cylinder which would be about 7 tons.

          The civilian space shuttle can only carry about 2 or 3 of those. The X37B does not look capable of carrying even one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-37#X-37B_2 [wikipedia.org]

          And if the X37B could do it and was merely carrying these up, it wouldn't be spending so much time in orbit - that would be a waste of resources.

          The 1.5 years is the strange thing. If it was just a month in orbit I'd say it might be solving a bandwidth and secrecy problem by carrying TBs of storage to space, filling them up either from own sensors or from other satellites and bringing the data back down.

        • (Score: 2) by rts008 on Friday April 11 2014, @08:47AM

          by rts008 (3001) on Friday April 11 2014, @08:47AM (#29922)

          I am curious if one of those 'telephone poles'(perhaps smaller) combined with the US Navy's new railgun(bigger version needed) could reduce the guidance package requirements, or provide more accuracy?

          The destructive power of nukes, without the radioactive fallout...what's not to like?(sarcasm)

          Don't get me wrong, I'm not mocking you...I happen to think that this(your post) was thought of as a possible mission, from the start.
          The railgun part was just my actual curiosity. The timing would seem to work, but is probably a coincidence, though I imagine it may have been discussed.(pure speculation based on 'if I can think it, others can')

          However, it does give the leaders the shimmies... and that's who counts anyway.

          Even if nothing else, just the fear its up there and there's nothing they can do about it.

          ( Even if the thing's empty, if the other guy does not know it, the fear and intimidation factor is very real if the "enemy" is led to believe it has this kind of weapon to dispense onto his bunker. )

          Other than suggest that you edit the 'onto his bunker' to 'into his bunker', I totally agree that this has worked well in the past, and probably into the future.(see: Cold War)

          I have read a lot of sci-fi, and the precision kinetic weapons have always interested me(I'm a physics geek), but the reality of them makes me want to soil my shorts. There is no defense against kinetic strikes from orbit..."He who rules the orbitals, rules the planet!" seems to be a common theme in a lot of sci-fi, especially sci-fi by actual physicists/scientists.

          We are entering some 'interesting' times...I grew up in the 1960's, and have seen a lot of sci-fi tech emerge into reality, along with stuff never imagined before.
          What a rush!(sometimes akin to falling off a roof, but a rush is a rush!)

          • (Score: 2) by Rivenaleem on Friday April 11 2014, @10:44AM

            by Rivenaleem (3400) on Friday April 11 2014, @10:44AM (#29966)

            The mass drivers in Babylon 5 are a perfect example of these. Or the asteroid in Starship Troopers.

        • (Score: 1) by Woods on Friday April 11 2014, @09:01PM

          by Woods (2726) <woods12@gmail.com> on Friday April 11 2014, @09:01PM (#30274) Journal

          The bad guys in that one GI Joe movie had one of those. [youtube.com] Despite the destruction and loss of life, I was pretty excited to see the science of a theorized weapon in use in a way that would show its power, but not cause any harm.

          I was/am quite curious of how accurate the portrayal of the destruction is in that video though. But unless someone here can figure it out, I hope we never know.

    • (Score: 2) by tathra on Friday April 11 2014, @03:00AM

      by tathra (3367) on Friday April 11 2014, @03:00AM (#29824)

      China [wikipedia.org] and America [wikipedia.org] currently just launch missles to destroy satellites. the debris left behind is Really Bad News for current and future satellites and space stations. there's already a shitton of debris up there and its plenty hazardous already (it'd be cool if the stuff formed into a ring, preferably one visible from the surface, but that doesnt seem likely to happen).

      as for launching attacks on the surface, some attack vectors have been considered [wikipedia.org], but most countries are stringently against the militarization of space, and agree via international treaties that everything above ~50+ miles above ground is solely international territory [wikipedia.org] that, if used, must be used for the betterment of the whole world.

      • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Friday April 11 2014, @03:35AM

        by c0lo (156) on Friday April 11 2014, @03:35AM (#29833) Journal

        must be used for the betterment of the whole world.

        For some [wikipedia.org], there's nothing better than this world being always at war [wikipedia.org] ("War is peace", remember?).

        --
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
      • (Score: 2) by anubi on Friday April 11 2014, @03:51AM

        by anubi (2828) on Friday April 11 2014, @03:51AM (#29837) Journal

        Wow.. I just hit reply after submitting my post only to read yours... and find the same link... about the rods from god.

        Its going to be quite a fray when the Chinese technologies and production capabilities clash with the European banking class which apparently owns the USA from what I can tell. My guess is the Chinese will launch some sort of cyberattack to render the banking system inoperable, and with as much stuff is absolutely dependent on electronic payments, it will be impossible for us to feed Vaal. [wikipedia.org]

        --
        "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
      • (Score: 2) by isostatic on Friday April 11 2014, @09:40AM

        by isostatic (365) on Friday April 11 2014, @09:40AM (#29941) Journal

        "agree via international treaties that everything above ~50+ miles above ground is solely international territory that, if used, must be used for the betterment of the whole world."

        Most counties agree via international treaties that torture is not allowed, that invading foreign countries is not allowed, that populations have a right to self determination.

          Doesn't stop those countries when it's convenient.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11 2014, @03:56AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11 2014, @03:56AM (#29838)

    Asking the readers for speculations and rumors.
    Now THAT's some quality NEWS content right there!

    • (Score: 1) by Quicksilver on Saturday April 12 2014, @11:44PM

      by Quicksilver (1821) on Saturday April 12 2014, @11:44PM (#30632)

      This is actually a very scientific way to figure out exactly what they are doing with the X-37B. Let me outline the process:

      - Get a large number of people to speculate publicly about its activities.

      - With a large enough sample someone will invariably hit on the actual activity.

      - A government assault team in black SUVs from some three letter agency will show up at the house of the correct guesser.

      - Take note of the missing person's guess to discover the now verified purpose...

  • (Score: 2) by Covalent on Friday April 11 2014, @03:56AM

    by Covalent (43) on Friday April 11 2014, @03:56AM (#29839) Journal

    I said it before and I'll say it again...this craft is exploring the possibilities of an orbiting drone. Stays in space as long as you want, then activates to "strategically strike" any place on the planet within 2 hours (and probably less).

    And like I said before, yes I know, no weapons in space. I'm sure this doesn't have any weapons on it. ;)

    --
    You can't rationally argue somebody out of a position they didn't rationally get into.
    • (Score: 1) by bill_mcgonigle on Friday April 11 2014, @07:10AM

      by bill_mcgonigle (1105) on Friday April 11 2014, @07:10AM (#29898)

      this craft is exploring the possibilities of an orbiting drone.

      Close, I think, but I suspect it's for drone operators. Latency is still a problem for remote drone operations for tasks much more difficult than blowing up schools with brown children in them.

      They are making a human-flight version of the X-37B - now then, put it up in a Molniya orbit [wikipedia.org] over a target area, and get enough hang time to operate drones with sub-second latency for long enough for the conflict to no longer matter.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11 2014, @07:53PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11 2014, @07:53PM (#30242)
        A molniya orbit goes up to 40000km. In terms of latency it's not a huge difference from having something in geostationary orbit.

        So if you want low latency you'd use something like Iridium instead.
    • (Score: 2) by isostatic on Friday April 11 2014, @09:33AM

      by isostatic (365) on Friday April 11 2014, @09:33AM (#29936) Journal

      Doesn't need weapons, the kinetic energy alone will do the trick.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11 2014, @04:40AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11 2014, @04:40AM (#29859)

    like Columbia.

  • (Score: 1) by blackpaw on Friday April 11 2014, @07:56AM

    by blackpaw (2554) on Friday April 11 2014, @07:56AM (#29909) Journal

    And the Air Force is too embarrassed to admit it.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by geb on Friday April 11 2014, @10:10AM

    by geb (529) on Friday April 11 2014, @10:10AM (#29955)

    Spy satellites are not stealthy, despite the best efforts of their operators. Huge expanses of solar panel are easy to track with equipment as cheap as a hobbyist telescope and a notebook.

    If you are determined and suspect that you are a high value target, you can predict with very good accuracy when a spy satellite will be overhead. You can schedule your secretive activities for when the skies are clear.

    X-37B is intended to change that. On previous flights, it has been observed making some quite extreme changes in orbit. It's known to have an efficient engine and a big fuel tank. Satellite spotters attempting to track its orbit have seen it turning up in times and places they thought it could never have reached.

    It is simply one more spy satellite, but one that can sneak up on you at unexpected times, and to achieve that it needs to be able to refuel periodically.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Snotnose on Friday April 11 2014, @02:22PM

      by Snotnose (1623) on Friday April 11 2014, @02:22PM (#30060)

      If they can fold up those solar panels as needed then, combined with it's engine, it can be pretty sneaky.

      --
      The dishes in the sink are giving me dirty looks again.
  • (Score: 1) by Aiwendil on Friday April 11 2014, @11:39PM

    by Aiwendil (531) on Friday April 11 2014, @11:39PM (#30348) Journal

    ..but if the US already has smaller harder-to-track satellites that spy, wouldn't this be a good platform to launch said satellites with?

    I mean, it would effectivly hide what orbit and when the small thing is deployed.

    Also, wouldn't it be a good retrival-system for refuelling and upgrades (put it at a slightly slower of faster relative speed than the untracked object you want to retrieve/refuel and just stay in orbit for a few months until the orbits coincides, pick it up/refuel it, stay up there a bit longer to not be too obvious, deorbit)