The second Boeing X-37B OTV (orbital test vehicle) touched down at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., on June 16 after a 469-day mission (USA-226). OTV-2 had launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on board an Atlas V launch vehicle on March 5, 2011. The first X-37B mission (USA-212) with OTV-1 was launched on April 22, 2010 and landed on December 3. Thus, the X-37B has now successfully accomplished two automatic recoveries of a vehicle from space.
Mojave Air & Space Port
Burt Rutan, who retired in April from Scaled Composites, the company he founded in Mojave, Calif., has joined with Paul Allen in a plan to build the largest aircraft in the world. Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, funded the SpaceShipOne effort that successfully boosted the first privately funded manned rocket outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Big Frog racer is getting attention for more than just its tongue-in-cheek patriotic name. The French aircraft is the first carbon-fiber race plane to run on a diesel engine powered purely by jet-A fuel. And it is turning heads here at the Le Bourget show.
The U.S. Air Force/Boeing X-37B spacecraft returned to earth by landing at Vandenberg AFB in California on December 3. Aside from some damage from space debris and a blown tire on rollout, the 244-day flight was a success, said officials.
Sean Roberts, an experimental test pilot for both military and civilian projects with more than 18,000 flight hours, started the National Test Pilot School (NTPS) in 1980 after receiving requests from the aircraft industry for a school that would address FAA certification requirements.
Northrop Grumman finalized its acquisition of Scaled Composites on August 24, increasing its shares from 40 percent to 100 percent. Scaled Composites is the aerospace and specialty composites development company founded and run by Burt Rutan, known most recently for designing the first privately funded rocket-powered spacecraft, SpaceShipOne. The spacecraft made its first supersonic flight on Dec.
Northrop Grumman now owns 100 percent of Mojave, Calif.-based Scaled Composites. On August 24, Northrop Grumman, which already owned 40 percent of Scaled, closed on the purchase of the remaining 60 percent. Scaled continues to work on the program to deliver SpaceShipTwo to Virgin Galactic.
Based on the success of the SpaceShipOne (SS1) suborbital craft’s ascent on June 21 (AIN, July, page 2)–becoming the first privately funded manned spacecraft to reach 100 km (328,000 feet)–designer Burt Rutan is confident that he and his company, Mojave, Calif.-based Scaled Composites, will win the $10 million Ansari X Prize by year-end.
Mojave, Calif., is a unique place. As they drive north on State Highway 14, approaching the small burg of approximately 3,700 people, visitors first notice the hundreds of blades turning in windmill farms on hillsides to the west of town. Across the highway, dozens of jetliner tails sprout from the desert floor, idling in storage in the arid desert air at Mojave Airport.
Two teams, one American and one Canadian, are poised to capture the Ansari X Prize by mid-October, having announced initial launch dates of their privately funded suborbital space vehicles within days of each other.