On May 17, 2020, the X-37 plane, built by Boeing, took off discreetly in the American sky. Since its entry into service in 2010, the aircraft has already flown 5 times. But this plane is different in more ways than one. A worthy heir to NASA’s space shuttle programs, the X-37 is actually an aircraft capable of going into space.
After more than 900 days (two and a half years) spent in space, he has just made his grand return to Earth. It landed at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 12. It is very difficult to know the exact mission of such a device in space. Very secret, the X-37 is used by the American army for the development of advanced technology.
Some experts even believe that NASA has no idea of the exact actions of the plane once in space. Despite this monastic silence, the American space agency has delivered a secret or two to the press. In particular, it communicated on the putting into orbit of a satellite in October 2021. On behalf of the United States Air Force Academy.
A top secret flight
This satellite was equipped with “5 payloads”, but again NASA will say no more. The US space agency has confirmed the presence of a photovoltaic radio frequency antenna system. Developed by the Naval Research Laboratory, this system must convert solar rays into microwave energy and thus “to transmit electricity from space to the surface”.
“Since the first launch of the X-37, the aircraft has broken records and provided unparalleled capability to rapidly test and integrate new space technologies,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing Spacewho spoke in a statement.
A few days ago, China, the great adversary of the United States in this new space race, also brought a spacecraft back to Earth. Here again, the secret was in order for the CNSA (the equivalent of NASA in China) which gave very little information concerning the return mission of its space plane.
A European space shuttle on the horizon
Today only these two countries have a machine capable of making round trips between Earth and space in this way. Europe is working on its side on the design of its own shuttle, Space Rider. During the last edition of the IAC, ArianeGroup also demonstrated its shuttle prototype, baptized Susie.
In the 90s, Europe had already tried to build its own shuttle. But the overly complex Hermès project will never see the light of day, and 1.9 billion euros go up in smoke for the ESA. A failure still present in everyone’s mind and which greatly slows down the development of a new European space shuttle.