Thursday, September 27, 2012

Next-Generation Space Plane Sought by USAF

US Military Wants Space Planes, Reusable Rockets

26 September 2012 03:10 PM ET
X37-B Space Plane
Technicians inspect the military X37-B space plane after its June 2012 landing, which completed the vehicle's second trip to orbit.

Shrinking space budgets don't stop the U.S. military from dreaming about space planes or rockets capable of flying back and landing on their own.

Reusable launch vehicles capable of soaring into space and returning by flying through Earth's atmosphere like airplanes could potentially save millions on expensive launches that typically cost thousands of dollars per pound — especially if they fly frequently. But U.S. military officers and researchers acknowledged the challenge of pushing for next-generation space vehicles during a time of budget cuts.

"Money is tight, and we have to make tough decisions on where to invest money," said Col. Scott Patton from Air Force Space Command. "In the long term, we need full spectrum launch capability at dramatically lower cost."

The U.S. government spent tens of millions of dollars on space plane programs in past decades — not to mention the $3 billion National Aero-Space Plane project — but most never got off the ground before cancellation. Such half steps need to change if the U.S. hopes to create a launch vehicle that can truly revolutionize launch costs, Air Force researchers said.

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