USA-240 is the third spaceflight of the U.S. Air Force’s X-37 experiment program to ascertain the technological reliability and reusability of unmanned spacecraft in orbital missions. The secretive flight, which logged 675 days orbiting the earth, marked the first re-flight of the agile space shuttle specially designed to withstand re-entry heat and autonomous landing on its gear on a runway (X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, 2020). OTV-3 foreshadows far-reaching implications for the robotic space plane industry. Resistance to unintentional interferences, low probability of interceptions, and worldwide availability of frequencies are critical considerations in enhancing the functionality of UAS.
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Implications of the X-37 UAS to the Military and Aerial/Space Industry
The reusability of the UAS allows engineers and scientists to recover experiments conducted in the space environment, providing an opening for the advancement of the current technology, improved performance, and flexibility. Moreover, the surpassing of the orbital duration beyond the designed schedules implies outstanding capabilities than initially presumed and that UAS can undertake additional assignments at no extra costs. Therefore, the X-37 supports the progressive, cost-effective, and efficient improvement of space capabilities.
Design and Operational Considerations
Among the prominent design and operational considerations to support such an advanced UAS would be the worldwide availability of frequency allocation, resistance capabilities to unintentional interference, and low probability of intercept. Additionally, maintainability, scalability, operational sustainability, and deployability ease should be principal operational and design considerations to support cost-effectiveness and reconfiguration (Petritoli et al., 2018). These architectural features would allow the vehicle to operate on frequencies across all locations of interest, execute its mission successfully, and keep maintenance costs low.
OTVs Differences with Conventional Satellites and Spacecraft Systems
OTVs differ from conventional spacecraft systems and orbital satellites due to several reasons. The OTV-3 is reusable, coated with thermal tiles to withstand the re-entry heat, and land autonomously on its gear. Additionally, the OTVs are designed to launch vertically, land horizontally, and have a smaller payload than conventional satellites and orbital space crafts (Ghoshroy, 2015). The advanced navigation and guidance systems, lightweight electromechanical flight features, and autonomous orbital flight capabilities set the OTVs apart from the traditional satellites and spaceships.
Ghoshroy, S. (2015). The X-37B: Backdoor weaponization of space? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 71(3), 19-29. Web.
Petritoli, E., Leccese, F., & Ciani, L. (2018). Reliability and maintenance analysis of unmanned aerial vehicles. Sensors, 18(9), 1-16. Web.
X-37B orbital test vehicle. (2020). U.S Air Force. Web.
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