The X-37B unmanned military spaceship launched from Cape Canaveral on
Thursday night, officially beginning the age of space drones. If
successful, it will perform the first-ever unmanned space re-entry and
landing. Run by the Air Force, the program is drawing a measured mix of
awe at the technology and concern at the prospect of military hardware floating overhead. Here's what people are saying.
Predator Drone? The Christian Science Monitor's Mark Sappenfield
throws up his hands. "How long the mission will last, what it hopes
to accomplish, and what, exactly, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is
designed to do are all mysteries," he writes. "For its part, the Air
Force has sought to quell conjecture that the X-37 might be some sort of
orbiting Predator drone, dropping weapons from space. ... This being
the military, however, there are questions about whether that is the
whole story. With the Air Force divulging few details about the craft or
its mission, even defense experts are unsure about the program. Is this
a protoype of what will become a fleet of Air Force spaceships or is it
an end in itself?"
- Maneuverable Satellite Unlike a
normal, fixed-position satellite, BBC's Paul Rincon explores its benefits over a
normal, fixed-position satellite. "Conventional satellites were
vulnerable to missile systems because they followed predictable paths in
orbit and were relatively easy to spot. The X-37B could evade attempts
to shoot it down with anti-satellite (A-sat) weapons. And if enemy
forces know when spy satellites are due to fly over their territory,
they can limit sensitive activities to times when there are no passes by
reconnaissance spacecraft. The X-37B could spring a surprise by virtue
of its maneuverability."
- Cheap, Versatile Space Platform
Wired's Jason Paur writes, "The
military has been looking into the idea of an orbital space platform for
decades." According to an official, "the primary goal is to see if the
system is a viable option for the Air Force." The official said, "Top
priority is an inexpensive turn around. ... Do we have
to do a lot of servicing? If that’s the case, it makes this kind of
vehicle less attractive to us in the future."
- Decline of Manned Military Wonkette's Ken Layne sighs, "Drone craft
kill the brown people our government doesn’t like and mysterious new
pilot-free space planes zoom around the Earth, waiting for a signal. The
Time of the Robots is here. The recruiting storefronts in the
half-empty strip malls should be going the way of Bed Bath ‘n Beyond
pretty soon now."
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