What's the story behind the Air Force's X-37B space plane? What is it doing on its super-long missions? Ben Bowlin joins the show to make wild speculations with me.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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open windows with snap assessed, switch between work, school and everything else with multiple desktops windows. Eleven brings you closer what you love, discover more ways to get more done with windows. Eleven pcs at windows, dot, com, slash, brings you closer. Welcome to textile production from Iheart Radio either, and welcome to textile I'm your host job and Stricklin. I'm an executive producer with Iheart Radio and held the attack are yeah it's time, or a text of classic episode, ones, a secret published on April twenty seventh two thousand fifteen and it is titled the secret space plain enjoy, so we're talking about a space blame a secret space plain and
it's been reported on in the new several times, there's an upcoming launch that should be happening in May of twenty fifteen It is, as we record this it's early April of two thousand and fifteen, so obviously that's still a ways out and depending on weather and stuff, it could end up being pushed back but we wanted to talk about what this plane is and we blood the talk about what is doing, but but you'll find out. That's a little complicated. There are some guesses and, as we continue through today's episode, we will arrive at some of that, but too, to be absolutely honest from the jump. The people who do not what it's doing are totally not allowed to talk about. It gather. This is like almost area fifty one level secrecy right where here, where people it's it's! It's common knowledge that the thing exists, but now
a common knowledge of, what's going on with its very much like area, fifty one. What's for many years, so the set up I have on this is on Friday October. Seventeenth, twenty fourteen, unmanned plain landed autonomously. I should add at Van DEN Berg AIR Force Base in California, and it had spent six hundred seventy or days nearly for four years in lower earth orbit in space. It flew for two years up in space, So the landing marked the end of the year. I called a test but really could just called a mission of the Ex thirty seven be space plain, also known as the orbital test vehicle or o tv, and there are two of those planes in exists.
Hence, and together they loved more than one thousand three hundred sixty seven days in orbit total and that's across. Ray missions that a lot of time he had once so you might want to know what's going on and the thing is. like we mentioned right the need to know basis that you don't need to know Neither do we will, I think, eventually, that we're going to know we being the public eventually, we have to know, but there's there's a story behind this. It's a combination of stuff the began decades ago right, yet back in the ninety nine. These so turn your watch back. If you will to the magical decade
nineties. Grunge music is all the rage, though, yet you know that generation xers are making sardonic entertainment, left and right empire records. That kind of thing, and so NASA at that point was looking into the future of space exploration, particularly the type that doesn't need human beings on spacecraft humans are such a hassle space. You after you have to spend so much time. Technology and money just it late. it will not die. I get the you guys up their back yeah yeah, keeping keeping humans alive in space is a tall. Order. There's a last of space that is really deadly right did I thought our negative What's a vacuum of yesterday's you ve got radiation. You ve got microgravity which, over a longer time period, can cause serious health problems. Yet tiny object to high speeds,
space debris, all the sort of stuff and clearly the space age. We ve had our share of tragedies and, definitely aren't making light of that. That's one of the reasons why so much effort and money has been put forward into these on and maidens and care We find ways of getting stuff to space, but save like up like a refueling mission worry Your replenishing inventory aboard the International Space Station Shore with the need for a man, spaceflight so there there's a real reason why NASA was interested in this and they were but apart from that, it also reduces costs. Oh yeah, you dramatically yeah don't have to have a life support system, for example in an unmanned spacecraft,
That alone will save you millions of bucks right. So in nineteen. Ninety eight NASA announced that it was developing. A pair of vehicles are one while the orbital vehicle and one called the approach and landing test vehicle or a l, tv and the ale TVS purpose, was to test the approach and landing systems of another and plane. So this one was not designed to go into space, the Ale TV and NASA partnered with Boeing and the air force in order to get this programme going. So the El Tv was just and unmet and I say just wasn't, a plane, because it is amazing to me that you could build an autonomous vehicle that could land right a plane it won't take off yeah on a landing One this case it wasn't taking off, What they did with this was they were lifted up another vehicle and then drop it
and then they would allow the unmanned vehicle to fly itself to the proper landing destination and land, so the open, could not take off on its own. Ok, I couldn't go into space, but It was designed mainly as a test platform for the autonomous guidance system and land sort of a proof of that yeah examine. Obviously, if you want to build upon this and create a day, the vehicle or an unmanned vehicle. They can go into space first. You want to make absolutely certain that you have taken steps to show that it can land before you poor in all the money that is necessary for it to be able to survive the rigours of space travel yeah, there's a little bit of a young. I guess a GEO political calculation of this kind of stuff too, because if in orbit decays right, if the thing gets into space and crashes or just doesn't wayward supposed to the. Not only have you the launching
already lost billions of dollars, but you ve also give in all of this research too. another country arriving at a friendly one, yeah exactly every we ve seen this sort of stuff throughout the history of the Oh really, the cold war is like things like the uterus you to US biplane. going down and the fact that that was a huge concern that that there, the adversaries to the United States had suddenly gained access to some of that technology. Well, yeah, that's clearly other concern for this sort of stuff. You want to make sure that everything is working properly before you ever put it towards any kind of sir I've used, or even just a scientific experiment or whatever, like maybe it's, to deploy a satellite or something or even even someday, more sophisticated like to fix a satellite to Paris prepare yeah yeah, so the, like. I said, Boeing was partnering with NASA to develop these. It would
ultimately, under this part of the the programme. own. It would only develop the alt v for NASA, that's as far as a guide, but it was designated as the Ex thirty seven, a aircraft or spacecraft really That's the street name, yeah yeah yeah. So much easier to say that in the old way or whatever, so it was some or to an earlier unmanned aircraft. That was again made by Boeing, but this one was operated by the air force. It was the Ex forty a ah Can they export aid? Was meant as a test platform for things that were all Let me go on an unmanned space, plain type vehicle, so another proof of concept, kind of like the idea that we want to make sure that we get there
the right steps when not go on we're, not gonna, leave and jump over like six steps of development. Right use this as a incremental approach, so the x ray could not actually go into space, but again was to test certain technologies. It also was too small for NASA and Kuwait. Again. It was too small for NASA. Could we before we go on? Could you talk a little bit about just the the dramatic waste? typical, conventional launches? Oh sure, yeah, like the Abbe like soap. Generally speaking, the rule of thumb is that a launch with a government funded space launch about ten thousand dollars per pound per pound ever pounder payload, that you want to put the space costs ten grand so
Imagine that you have a vehicle that has all these different support systems on it for astronauts that adds to the weight plus. Then you have the payload of the spacecraft itself, so something like the space shuttle program, which was designed to take material into space either as like a satellite to be deployed or tools to repair things that already existed like the Hubble or even just a trip to the international space station to bring supplies up there. All of that weight is a factor in the cost of launch. If you do an unmanned spacecraft and you reduce the the weight of the spacecraft, you reduce the or even even though the Ex three seven eight was larger than the Ex Forty eight is still significantly smaller than space shuttle, and that means that it would cost less to put up. You have to use less fuel, so it cost less to put it up into lower earth orbit it. When I say less, it still really
expensive by the way, when I the reason why I stressed government funded a space in a hunch, is there a lot of time the companies that have been argued. in that by privatizing, they could bring down the price of launching payloads into space, so things like space x ray have really helped to reduce that cost. So then, getting into the the differences between the Ex Forty eight and the Ex thirty seven a despite It's a lower number, the Ex thirty seven eight is a bigger spacecraft, two hundred twenty percent larger than the export. A, and there are other differences as well. Once we get to the one they actually was decided going. space yeah, my favorite, that one's got advance thermal protection, spacecraft systems, that kind of thing so. The thirty thirty and forty eight were both design just be test platform, so they didn't need all that all the extra stuff so we're going through this incremental testing,
starting to see if we can really make this this view. In reality this autonomous supersecret spacecraft yeah. I just love the idea, Jonathan where how and how how do the bureaucratic changes so yeah. Let me we're talking a lot about NASA right now and you might be thinking well. Why is this space plane so secret masses not about secrecy, and the thirty seven a wasn't meant to be secret at all that's. A lot of the information you can find about. The spacecraft is right there on NASA's website, because it's all publicly available but Some changes would end up making the Let's say the stewardship of the thirty seven X. Thirty seven program change, hands
so first in two thousand and one the air force withdrew it's support for the project. It's financial support. It was one of three parties that was partner to fund this, the other two being NASA and Boeing AIR Force pulls two thousand one NASA keeps going with the partnership with Boeing they had to. who end up going to the Gulf. And saying hey. We need grants and staffing for this to keep going. Otherwise, the project's gonna collapse from the inside this continue until two thousand for and that's when NASA ends up handing over the control of the Ex thirty seven programme to the defence advanced research projects. see also known as DARPA, which I talked about multiple times on this past year. We Take a couple of other shows two DARPA, I'm I'm assuming their people for the steam before arbiter.
It was our true. It is the closest thing, the! U S has to a mad science department yeah, it's the Department of defense. Is mad? Science depart? Yes, here an added star, DARPA is filled with a bunch of feeling in lab codes, locked away, forty forty levels underground, in fact mostly what DARPA does- is enough it other entities to develop more specific purposes. So I didn't episode not long ago talking about how DARPA was instrumental, and in the rapid development of autonomous car technology? Oh yeah yeah so- and this is very apt- that this is an autonomous spacecraft technology. So you know you're you're talking about the continuation of an idea and just expanding it explained the parameters early. So, in this case DARPA takes over. meant that the export seven fell under the control of Department of Defense, which also meant that the Ex thirty seven
suddenly became a classified project that was no longer this. This deal very public facing a project from NASA. What's a classified project under the Department of Defense yeah, which your, which is kind of a, homer, but also understandable, given that the kind of technology that will be working on, is not something you want or or really can have open source. You know gap because other countries will get involved. Other countries will reversing near and there's a lot of arm again. This is this is where I think we start to see if a political aspect become even more parents, but but the stories not done yet right so remember earlier force had pulled. sort of it's it's support in two thousand and one yeah in November, two thousand and six it announces it's going to develop a variation of the X. Thirty, seven, a remember that orbital vehicle that Bassa had proposed that they never got to the point where that was actually built. They had built the one that was
approach and landing test vehicle, but not the orbital one. And the air force wanted to build an orbital vehicle. They called it the orbital test vehicle, so the o t v and they designated at the Ex thirty seven be so The three seven eight was the one that NASA used to test this approach and landing the technology, and this one was meant to actually go into space, so the Topsecret programme falls to the can. all of the air forces, and now the official word from the air force as to the purpose of the Ex thirty seven programme is. This is a direct quote from their one son
the Ex thirty seven b, orbital test vehicle or o tv is an experimental test programme to demonstrate technologies were reliable, reusable unmanned space test platform for the? U S, air force, the primary objectives of the Ex thirty seven b are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to and examined on earth. So there's a man, Orton stuff in there. That really does play into the purpose of this thing. the big one being that it is a reusable spacecraft right it's not a one and done right, and this was the same purpose for this. a shuttle programme. It was the difference between that and previous programmes where, like a capsule, would go up?
come back down and then once it came down it had to be retired. You couldn't use it again. This is the difference between those and and those previous, the spacecraft and things like the space shuttle and the x thirty seven spacecraft yeah we're kind of locked into it. At this point, because we've put so much money in at the front yeah. So we will have to be left to make that money back. I'm I'm I'm just Tiggle, because what I love about these relatively obtuse kind of explanations, I is, is that their there's. Clearly there is clearly a lions on vague language. The word test is used three times in the first sentence there and the substantive you're right. They are seen substantive things. The reusable spacecraft is probably the biggest part of it. Another part is the testing One of the instruments which, again, although you and I don't really know that that seems like one of the best guesses yeah
yeah you could argue that part of this the existence of this is really just to incrementally build toward a future. Spacecraft has not yet been designed right for specific purpose that may go beyond this testing their we're talking about. And another one may be that its to test role They didn t knowledge is that are not intended to make the spacecraft itself more effective, but rather just say, hey we built this censor. The sensor is meant to do this specific task when it's in space, but we don't know if the sensor can actually withstand being in space, being exposed to radiation right. But then you think all I've got this unmanned vehicle. I can put it up into orbit for hundreds of days at a time and expose the sensor to this.
Kinds of radiation, it will would experience if it were incorporated into some other type of spacecraft, and then we can test and see if, in fact, the thing we designed will still work once it's in space, so Those are the main. That's a valid thing urea, but it, but because of the secrecy, involve the fact that these these details cannot legally, we shared has led to some really interesting hypotheses, some more grounded than others. I like the to use it Grounded yes, yes, spacecraft I'll, be here all day. I'm surprised you got this far without another space one. The time in the notes- and they were all well she might be going about far letter. I would realise that while typing it out like now, well, ok, I'm going to do that, but we do you know what you know a lot about the Ex thirty seven. You can
He pictures of it online gaming see some great footage of it. That comes from, I think, ultimately, from the air force themselves, yeah yeah, because it means that the landing is impressive. Right, though, the fact that this is landing autonomously so unmanned, but not just on man. There's no one remote controlling this aircraft when it comes down and land right. It's not a drone, that's very important! Yet it's it's fully under own arabic navigation power. So here's some Facts that we know about it meant. A lot of this is because again started its life out as a NASA project, so there were some day cells. There are already out there in the air forces like ball hack. We don't care about this part. This is the important part. Just still talk about the Lee. Right right that I mean the tickle device yeah, it's just there to tickle space and movement to them. So here's what we do know it is twenty nine feet three inches long, which is about eight point: nine,
Peters. I went on landing gear, it is nine feet, six inches tall or about two point: nine meters night. That space and if you had a pressurize cabin, you would be able to really have astronauts right in it are the Ex thirty seven b, do not have a pressurize cabin right, so it cannot carry up anything living at least nothing that you expect to remain. It's a could carry up non animal like cargo. That's for sure, and not a whole lot of it and that's that size from wing tiptoeing debt is forty eleven inches, wide or four point five meters, and a ways, a slimming, eleven thousand pounds or four thousand nine hundred ninety kilograms. Its power system. uses lithium ion batteries to to supply power to its its thrusters, but it is
It's got: Galleon arson, I'd solar cells to recharge those. That's. Why can state space along? Because that's cassettes, question that a lot of people have at the beginning is how does it managed it will retain power for that long, yeah and returned to it's original and your return to his launch point on it's own power. This is not necessarily a powerful vehicle on it's own, no it it cannot take off from earth and it certainly cannot escape earth's gravity so it has to have a launch vehicle, also more commonly referred to by we mere mortals as rockets. because scrap one of these suckers onto a rocket, typically an atlas, the apples atlas- five, I guess I should say they ve high call I x, I I I I the ATLAS five rocket. You have to strap it up to one of those suckers to get it out into space in the first place. So imagine,
It has raised some folks objections to this whole approach, but we'll get into that all of it. so the way it would work as originally they were thinking about having this kind of piggy back onto a spatial So if you are going to launch a spatial, you could also larger space plain. However, the Columbia. Disaster really NASA to re, evaluate the special programme for quite some time, in fact it was. It was put on the ground for a good long time after the Columbia disaster, as NASA was re evaluating the program and seeing how to make it so that that kind of tragedy would never happen again, yeah, so that method that would no longer be a viable means of getting the Ex thirty seven into space. So at that they re evaluation breaks. Thirty seven met as a payload for other launch vehicles and they settled the United Launch Alliance ATLAS. Five will be
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needs Iraq. Iran can help. You turn the far fetched into within reach. When you have one, you can reach a potential, your dreams oh and when it comes to your financial goes. Credential is the rock you can rely on our knowledge of all financial professionals. We can help you get to new heights plan, invest in shore retire visit prudential Dotcom, whose Europe potential shortcoming of America North the launch vehicle delivers the expertise of the local orbit low earth orbit is the same orbit that you find the international space station same earth orbit the Hubble spacecraft are Hubble space telescope is then it's the same earth orbit or its the same orbit. That up all the space shuttle missions went to write so. In other words, there have only been a couple times that human beings have ever gone beyond beyond low earth orbit. Those times would be when they sent people to the moon
otherwise everything's bitten low earth orbit, which is relatively close to the earth from arbours. give its way the heck out there. But if you were to look at earth from a much taught like us, not even a bird s eye view. Obviously high but further out, you would say, oh or low earth orbit is still very much in the neighborhood yeah a spaceborne. Well, I guess one of the great ways to imagine this is, if you look at a picture with the distance between earth's moon, and earth yeah? And then you see the the near earth orbit is very, very close, yeah exactly and its also, where a lot of space debris happens to be theirs, others, because we do have satellites that are much further out right. We ve got like the the GEO Synchronous the lights are much further out than mere earth orbit, but does
delivered by a unmanned spacecraft. They weren't they weren't put there by astronauts so that that is now. We do have stuff that's further out, but it's not stop remand missions and this unmanned mission would end up going in that same very low earth orbit and it could stay with. Originally, I think they were planning on having it stay between two hundred and three hundred days, not quite a year. The Athens, I would be pretty much the limit that was originally or at least that was kind of what the murder mission parameters we're going to be, but, as it turns out, they can stay up there much longer than that. So the very first mission for an Ex thirty seven launch on April twenty second twenty ten and landed on December. Third, twenty ten landed without a hitch, some other test the things that they did where they just dropped, one of these Ex thirty seven from another aircraft. Some of them
successful, not all of them were all tat. They had some issues where I think, on the very day, I think the very first time tried to land one when the mission has been scrapped forward there. It didn't it up landing on the the landing strip, but it overshot a little bit and rolled off the that sustain minor damage. Ok, not that bad! Oh, no and remember they built two of these things. Originally they were just going to do one, but they ended up building two so that first mission lasted two hundred twenty four days and Ex thirty seven travelled, approximately ninety one million miles in those two and twenty four days, which is about a hundred forty six million kilometers. The second mission was launched on. With twenty eleven of this was the second of the two x, thirty seven. So what in the same one that went up in twenty ten right, important
to remember remember the whole purpose of these was so you have reusable they are giving you could turn it around fairly quickly and launch it for a new mission, but they didn't reuse the original. What not for this one iota stately beta cited, are we're going to stagger these so the second one went up in on March twenty fifth two thousand this was supposed to only last only is a weird way of putting it Only last two hundred seventy days Incredibly long time to just be yours, just be the spacecraft. Remember it's not the international space station or anything like that, but On November twenty ninth two thousand and eleven the air force announced it was going to extend the mission. You know just like go for a while longer, so it then we landed on June sixteenth, twenty dwell, which means it lasted. Four hundred sixty nine day that his mind yeah. So this space, possessed orbiting earth for four hundred. Sixty nine,
sometimes by the waves low enough that you can spot it over amateur satellite investigators were observed Erskine check it out. You can go online and find the find the correct forums which while you track pretty much anything that is in orbit of its close enough dancing. It's it's the great Achilles he'll of secrecy in space yeah yeah. If you're like hey, that starts moving the chances are not a star as not is that the death star, probably probably more likely a space station or a spacecraft. So the third mission launched on the similar twenty twelve and this one was the same spacecraft that did the twenty ten launch that this was the first one, the first Ex thirty seven b,
Now this particular one lasted for six hundred. Seventy four days, as the one we talked about, where was just shy of two years, right, yeah, pretty amazing that it could stay up. That long have landed on October, seventeenth, two thousand and fourteen since the one I was referring to the top of the show, and the fourth mission is scheduled to launch on May six, two thousand and fifteen, but again we're in early April, as we record this so yeah it's still in our future right, but what happens on emissions at the girl? closer
I remember how I said it was classified top secret. Yet do you think I have that clearance where we're going? I thought this was I I thought you were doing a bit you're, the guy who who knows the stuff? They don't want you to know. If anything, I should be asking you this question well, get well, here's the thing, and and and thank you for the shout out, but rumors proliferate in the absence of transparency, actually absolutely like you, you are We can't deny the existence of the state staff shortages We all know it exists, but if you cannot also explain the reason for it or what its purposes or what it is doing, then the absence that vacuum of information nature abhors a vacuum as the world and fill it with conjecture. Don't worry about not telling us what it does. We will take care that, for you by suggesting every kind of hypothesis. You can imagine ok, but with all that being said, I
we get to do one of the most enjoyable, fascinating and sometimes slippery slope is kind of things we, as we begin to assemble some of the facts. We definitely no and see if that builds out, the larger picture right, alright, yeah! So here's a here's what we know DARPA took control of it. It's part of the Department of defense. The air force is running it, so it's a military up friction with it being a military operation. You can therefore assume that it's going to be doing some things that would, in the long term, support military operation right and it's not it's not gonna, be a key. bull television satellite deployment, the backside smile a higher. You know their forces like we're, Strap forecasts she'll, see of contrast. Why should I put us up in the sky gonna happen? So Therefore, we narrow that the down the possible uses for this to military things that would
the military in some form or fashion. Yet that makes sense so that gives us some some direction, so one of the popular hypotheses is that the ECB, thirty seven, is acting like a spice. The light which may be to spy upon land targets even other spacecraft other targets in space, so it could be a satellite. There are a lot of people saying hey this most recent test had the spacecraft, the Ex thirty seven on the same general orbit, as a chinese satellite gather told AL, Weiner yeah, I believe so, and yeah nazi. That's a space lab yeah. I've been up for awhile, it has it's own refueling. So of course people people would guess that this is a
satellite either. Spying on other satellites were giving imagery from the ground. Mapping YAP, in other words right at the orbital path of the Ex thirty seven b, takes it over, in South EAST Asia, Latin America parts, the Middle EAST notably Iraq. So it's not an unreasonable, get yeah. You can understand why people would would suggest this. and we don't know all the equipment, that's aboard the thirty seven, I have noticed that we didn't give you run down on. I get has this kind of cameras system right or because we don't know but we'd love to do that without the stuff we, Those were the vague. We know it has the solar radiation. We know we know is less than we know. That's what allows it to stay up for so long. You know I can't say that would be able to stay up indefinitely but certain. You staying up there an incredibly long about time for something designed to fly up and fly back down. Yeah, it's not again. It's not space station raw so
here's the thing about the idea of its spying on the space lab. That's not really. Physically possible right yeah. Absolutely because you can. You can check out some of the words from the analyse this idea of it. following a satellite came about from that speculation. But there's a guy named Jim Overeager, who is who is a space analysed, which is a great job have. I would love to have their job break. All job looks pretty emptied me here. I believe that a start, It's moving back, lady, I'm very good at that. I I think I think we got you broadcast, so it so Let's go ahead and we will finish quoting. Given invite him to the ship later, not our spirits. He points out that these two objects, the chinese space LAB and the Ex thirty seven b. Therein
orbits that cross the equator about ninety degrees apart, so when they do crisscross each other's paths, they're going thousands of metres per second. So how can you make it? observation, and I speak here- you're going by so quickly that No there's, no way to get any meaningful information right up. We kind of like, let's, let's imagine that Ben for a moment that that you're writing with Scott okay yeah forgot Scott from car stuff cause. You guys do car stuff together, then Scott. he's got a lead, footman sure tat. He liked he likes to drive fast. So let's say that he's driving by your ear and the passenger seat he's he's flying down the road he's in one of his his amazingly scooped up muscle cars and by the way tat they making this up a happy birthday, or a sports vehicle Leslie Insular faster than a muscle cards of sports car that's design ago, facets of its one.
Those that was converted from an old race car and you, zoom past a person, that neither of you know, ok and he asked you what color their eyes were, Ah, that's like that have multiplied by way faster speeds, Sonia. It's it's impossible to get any kind of meaningful information from that are so what's another hypothesis, how about its, not actually doing any spying of its own. It's just testing spy technology, a Laker, why? Why would they be doing well, let's say that again, cannot like that idea of these sensors that you might want in. the two two model: something like nuclear deployment in another country, for or any other kind of sins or you can imagine that would be useful for military purposes and they built these. On earth, so here's the downfall that we have about our our technologies for space. We have to build them for them,
park here on earth. Ah, yet yet so are our infrastructure yeah! That's where we keep all our stuff and it's the way the tick would say, not the earth. That's where I keep all my stuff, so because we have all that stuff here and were developing everything here were building it here we can never be fully certain that the we designed here on earth is going to work the way we had intended once it's in space, though it may be that this is acting as a platform to test these technologies see if they are in fact viable in a space environment and returned to earth, so that we can be certain that the stuff we developed is in fact doing what it was intended to do, or at least figure how it broke yeah, exactly yeah. If it's not working, then we try and figure out. Why is it not working? What caused that? What was the thing It was the encounter a day,
some cosmic radiation, and I ended up messing everything up. If so, is there some way we can shielded from that? That kind of thing, yet I think, this is probably the most likely out of all the different old hypotheses yeah? I agree because pretty what the air Airforces said and ended its. It has precedent behind it, because the continually built these platforms said earlier. So it makes sense- and you also want to check- because especially this is new new technology of any sort is gonna, be a little bit delicate. Any no sensors are well sensitive near him. I you could even argue that maybe doesn't even go that far. Maybe it's just the air force wanting to test this autonomous nature and to make sure that they can rely upon it, even if the mission extends much further out than what was originally anticipated. That's valuable,
permission to know me: I'm not doing anything remotely secret right now other than just making sure it works which That's important now and we can't know without the tests so then there is another hypothesis where, on the expertise, there's a delivery mechanism for space weapons spares web. How do we define space weapons? That's an excellent question, one that cannot be answer right now, because it's a question that comes up over and over entreaty discussions, agenda, arms control, discussions, people- or disagree over and by people. I mean states like right countries disagree over the definition of space weapon. So, for example, perhaps you have a missile detection system Satellite system, that's deployed. Some would argue that has a space weapon. Now it might be a space where,
but in the form of defence by they would still argue that counts under certain definitions and rather states probably the states that actually have whistled detection systems in place. We would say this totally doesn't count as a space where right and we'll talk more about why they would say that low but later, but I M the Paragon just for the record. Denies yes, and in fact the Ex thirty seven has anything to do with space weapon deployment explicitly denies it, and also with you. his concern about space weapons and a militarization that I know we'll talk about it a little bit later, but there is also precedent in an unclassified public record Pentagon statements.
Especially under of Rumsfeld's heading of the administration, Donald Rumsfeld. I do there is an active desire on the part of not just the U S but other countries too, to explore the possibilities of defensive capability in Spain it just makes sense: it's not a secret. I mean anyone who lived through the eighties remembers the STAR Wars Program and the so called STAR Wars program which was proposed and ultimately abandoned plane. And to put an anti missile system into space, to protect against the potential first strike situation right or even no not even a first strike, but maybe even counterstrike, if you're being super cynical, of a system to to disarm. or disable incoming missiles. That could a target the United States. Ultimately, it didn't go into place and
Well, let's say I've done an episode about that, but if I have it, I absolutely need to yeah. I feel like we talked about this. Maybe we talked by affair, but that would be. That would be a fantastic. I guess it's it's searching it such an interesting thing. We could also talk about hands systems, oh yeah, but that's a story for another guy, such a strange love stuff, oh yeah! Oh absolutely, I'm I'm almost certain that Christmas TED one episode on it at some point, but I'll have to do a search, because once you do around seven hundred episodes, you really can't We had a blur yeah well and for me honestly after I did about ten episodes of Africa so anyway, there other hypotheses, as well or other other statements that have come out from various experts about the potential use of the Ex thirty. So and ah Laura Grego of the global security program at the union of concerned scientists says
the design of the Ex thirty seven really limits what it could be able to do, and she says that really can maneuver easily in orbit, Zella be very limited and its use as either spy technology or space weapon. I like we were thing earlier. You can sometimes see this thing from earth so maneuvering it is it's really hot make that a secret say like if everyone notices of the Ex thirty seven happens to be in a particular quadrant. That's near a russian spy satellite and that's by satellite, suddenly goes off line. It is now take a lot of imagination to connect those two things together. not a who done it. Yes, so probably not going to be used for a clandestine purposes. In that case, she also says it's not Large enough to be a satellite launcher doesn't have the cargo capacity to hold most satellites. I mean, if you're talking about like the small cluster satellites, that some people I refer to. Maybe
but it's not designed to carry any thing of substantial size, so that's per are we not what's being used? What it can do she says, is correct. Carry cargo up in the space about it. Then you have another expert, a mark governed or goober it who is an adjunct, assisted professor of Physics, in astronomy, at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, who says it space planes like the Ex thirty seven, are not more effective than traditional launches of satellites or space weapons, even potential space weapons right so, in other words, putting them into other types of spacecraft, go off into space that the art designed to come back. So there's no real advantage. I gave that the reusable factor which presumably would cut down on the causes a lot of space launches, but that it such a complicated endeavour. it's really designed to stay up, therefore, really long time that yeah, it doesn't make sense to use it as a delivery mechanism.
There is no reason why you're delivery mechanism would need to remain up in low earth orbit for hundreds of days, you, you just get out there. You deliberate you're done so his given is that well, doesnt really makes sense. In fact, he would argue that the only reason that the programme still exists is because so much momentum that there is so much money and effort put into developing it that it would mail it can have taken a life of its own, yet the soap ask at this point: yes, I met you heard it. It doesn't make sense compared to the alternatives. However, it did we, You got the ball rolling and now it's gonna continued role. Right wherever it ends up rolling and then there's another interesting thing that you have proposed is what what? If it's? What? there's a psychological aspects, the other there are some who have suggest that perhaps at least part
The reason why this project but say that the project, ultimately people say yeah, there's no, there's no practical reason to continue it, because we can accomplish a lot of the same goals using alternative means that dont require this autonomous vehicle right. Some of several, maybe it's just a kind of freak out potential adversaries like the Chinese. I like ok, first off, That sounds so ridiculous. On the offset it sounds like a billion dollar prank yeah. No, I agree like, like Hell, As you know, I'm concerned about. What's happening over in China and obviously we can't declare war or anything like that. But how do we scare them now? You could say that, however, Sputnik was kind of that you know: that's not a bad the Senate, a comparison, and we do know that right now, there's there's this very sensitive as a good word that a sensitive
an on going elbow. Knocking between nations in space. One thing working on this episode made me think about was the incident in two thousand seven, where the chinese government shot a satellite down from space yeah and it was it was pitched too. Public as like who was bad, and we wanted to make sure that nothing tariffs, happen through its. We took care of it, but it was also. There was a psychological aspect between the countries right to here's, what we Indeed they look at our capability? We can bring down a satellite from the surface like we can launch an attack from the surface of the earth and bring down a satellite. Also, the rest of the world said guys, don't
don't clutter up space more than it already isn't right. You are literally making it more dangerous for everything else, that's out in low earth orbit I mean, maybe that's the reason there hasn't been any extraterrestrial contact, maybe we're the equivalent of people who have refrigerators and stuff in there art or or or the equivalent of like. Well, You know I really want to check out the beautiful waterfall, but there's all. The band and barbed wire and broken glass here, I'm kind of scared that if I try and walk through they're gonna to cut myself up, that's that's because it we space debris is a serious point will not just for a man the missions but unmanned spacecraft as well absolute lake, it all week, have communication satellites that would get taken down if they encountered space debris. We're talking about That could be really tiny. I mean sure just like a couple of centimetres, precise but travelling at those amazing speeds. They could do
massive amounts of damage if they collide with something now on the positive side, spaces really big right at the right on the other, the less positive side. First, all their all. All of these things are largely in the same general orbit. New low earth orbit it. Secondly, The more debris you have, the more that the greater the odds increase of some sort of unintended collision. We've got a bit more about this secret spaceplane to talk about, but first, let's take a quick break. I I I I I I Those eleven gives people new ways to get more done. Snap assist lets you organ as your open windows at once with a click, multiple desktops make it easier than ever to switch between work, school and everything else. Plus a screen, you can actually touch means less typing, more, creating windows. Eleven brings you closer to what you love.
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discover more ways to get more done with windows. Eleven pcs at windows, dot, com, slash brings you closer. This episode of text of has brought to you by royal Caribbean accrue sounds good right now. Doesn't it now is the time to make them most of your vacation and a royal caribbean grooves gives you the chance to have an experience, unlike any other choose from over two hundred? Seventy destinations, including Alaska, Europe, the Caribbean and even perfect day, Island Royal Caribbeans own private, get away in the Bahamas, go on an adventure aboard some of the world's biggest ships enjoy live, entertainment, world class dining, and making activities try shipboard skydiving with I fly. Take a thrill ride on a water slide or try serving on the flow writer, whether your boss
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but it does confirm that there is a military aspect yeah by the air force who knew yeah right. I I would think again. You know we see people chasing explanations or speculation about what this is, but there is clearly something about an informational edge that I think here, though I am to be fair, that that phrasing, it could mean anything Ro we could totally mean any. Could it could mean reconnaissance? It could mean support in the sense of sending up a new satellite small satellite a sore or some other kind of payload, or it could be
some kind of weapon zation I mean it's so vaguely defined that it could run any of those things so again it and more often than not, it fuels the speculation as opposed to. Ah now I understand exactly it's there's there's something a little platitude knew about it, but this. But this brings us to a bigger issue which you and I have been fascinated by re up. The concept of weapon, zation of sticks, pudding, weapons into base for the purposes of warfare. So we're talking, like the thing from those missile defence systems to something that's more of an attack based form of warfare, something like a a system that could either launch missiles or other types of weaponry from space or supply? some other coordinated warfare efforts and Obviously this is one of those things that is
a very delicate subject, particularly when you look at the earth- and you say how many nations are actually space- fairing nations right, not as many as you think they're there there are some big strides being made that will change the game yeah, but right now the A lot of other nations are still catching up to what the? U S and Russia did Andy. Eighty ass, though you ve got things like you. Ve got coalitions like the European Space Agency. Absolutely you ve got countries like India or China, Japan that all have to some extent worked. This sort of stuff, some of them using the resources of other nations in order to actually launched things, but it is one of those deals where you have the potential to effect a huge number of people
for some of whom are living in nations that have absolutely no capability of going into space at the moment right, so it it ends up raising some concerns and in fact the space race itself raised a lot concerns you get to a point where the then so be it, yeah can launch a satellite of space in this case. Sputnik spun, they could not do much, is essentially beat a singer. All it really did was send a message that said, I'm still here until it until it stopped, but that was enough to terrify people the United States, because the other implications, that if the Soviet Union could send a rocket all the way out into space, it could also in Iraq it all the way over to the United States exactly so it raised a lot of of concerns not just about intercontinental ballistic missiles, but also are we one day going to have a war breaks out where
The weapons are in space. Cosette is terrifying right. Just then nuclear weapon, dropping from near earth orbit yeah. So in nineteen, sixty seven, several countries came together, and there was an open signing in nineteen sixty seven that took place in the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom and the United States for a tree that is called here's the full name, the treaty, on principle of governing the activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, letter that I guess they they have a lot of time to work on the tide array, a busy working on the actual agree. We, I wasn't so zip e with the title IV is informally referred to as the outer space treaty. Well, it makes a lot more sense easier, so so
a lot of ground rules about about space, because obviously, at that point only really two nations were in the space game, but they were two nations that were Phyllis. Ethically opposed to one another. They were in the middle of a cold war. and so you have these other countries saying you guys are getting like. First of all really angry at each other. Secondly, you ve both amassed a huge number of weapons. Third, you demonstrated that you are very much interested in going at the outer space and we but like I have to have us all kind of calm down yet little ground rules read in and just chill out a little bit, but these heard these are actually some fantastic rules. To the point where I wish more,
nations were on board with this plan b, but what our, what like worrisome exonerates? A first space exploration and discoveries, belong to all humans, not just one nation, so you can't hold all the info, though the ads it saying look, there's the potential for what we learn outer space to bear. That all of humanity. We cannot silo that information so that one nation benefits at the expense of everybody else. oh, there was an agreement that anything we learned that can become a benefit needs to be shared with everyone. Anyone with the technological capacity, can explore space, so it can't be off limits to anyone. So in other words, if the United States has to develop the space bearing technology, and then some other country that the? U S is maybe not so friendly with. Does the Eu S can't move to block them right like IRAN
you get off about the iranian space Agency and meal for some people might seem strange that it might seem strange that there is such controversy over nuclear weapons, but relatively little controversy over any space exploration and ask us yeah. Exactly saying, like you know the philosophical disagreements or ideological disagreements or or political arguments aside, all nations all states have a right to space exploration if they have the technological capacity to do so, you can't claim space property, yet you can't can't go out there and say this part of space belongs to the. U S, certainly the rush hour to whatever. So you can't land on the moon plan a flag and say that it belongs to you now so Eddie Izzard whole routine, about how you can conquer. Just as long as you have a flag does not apply to outer space
and besides said nobody tell him, you guys right why this also means that the Eu S can't lay claim to the moon. There is, however, an american flag up there, the american flag, is really unless the sound studio, supply re re whole holds dear and because somebody already sold off most of the property on the moon. I have a couple acres myself, yeah yeah, you love those. I mean, I'm sure that others are on the up and up right. Oh yeah, you, whenever you hear something like a a a company offering up space real estate, sure this treaty says that's not legal, at least not for states to do so garage can't do it. If you say well, I'm a private individual. Therefore I can claim it I'm sure you're going to have that. That is going to be very difficult to defend that, not that it not that there's any reason to defend it right now. It's totally not practical, but anyway although no one is allowed to create weapons of mass destruction and place them in space. This is a big one year, hard stop for most Anthony up now,
It's all about weapons of mass destruction. So the very specific definition of the type of weaponry right, we're talking about a weapon capable of killing or otherwise, injuring a huge number of folks at one go right, yeah Academy, traffic of bacteria home the weapons used so anyway, that does not fall under that category is not x x. Isn't it's not prohibited under these terms? yeah, and that has led to discussions of other treaties that would end up filling in some of those gaps will give that a second other roles include the fact that last year bodies can only be used for peaceful purposes, thou so interesting to me, because you know what what that also encompasses right. That means not weapon eyes in an asteroid. Right, for instance, are altering the the path of something else. Instead,
he subsidiary collides with the air in it. You can't use an asteroid as a projectile weapon and aim it ah at like in Russia, as just which- you wouldn't want to do anyway. I mean right like it. You don't want to cause a a planet wide extinction level event where wages the Euro in the car Like I mean this is the kind of stuff that has killed the entire populations, entire species collections of speed,
he's your asked so yeah you cannot use less fuel bodies or any you know for any non peaceful purpose. Governments are responsible for space activities, even if the activities of cells are carried out by private organizations which has very forward thinking lessons. Only state run operations had existed at that point, so in other words, if space ex does something really dumb out in space, the United States government would be held accountable for that because that's the presumably, if they launched from the United States, mean as a U S centred organization. So, even though its not run by the government there, U S would still be held responsible.
because they will essentially be allowing for it to happen right, be aware, space billionaires because there you could get a lot of trouble with your home country, yeah, yeah, you're, home country again to allow trouble and stuff trickled down right or issue. I wish is a host country. They heard him that this is true. Desperate, does pray the best way of putting it. So it's yours off meaning estates property, falls out of the sky and damages someone. You are at fault, so in other words, if the, U S puts up a satellite and the satellites orbit decays and the decaying orbit means the satellite starts to fall into the earth and does not burn up entirely rise of colliding with, like public library over in Eastern Europe, legally dangerous chemicals, that, U s the? U S is at fault there right as because their law
they put it up there and they did not find a way to to bring it down safely, mutually things like that are done in a controlled way where its purposefully brought down so that anything that would make it through the atmosphere. The rare instance that that actually does happen with Landon ocean, for example right, but you know it's always possible that you could have a situation where you're the the spacecraft's not responding to your commands to have it. You know the orbit in and in a controlled way, and that's kind of what this is covering. Also states are not supposed to contaminate the steel body snow littering no littering I'm talking to you by like blood, take up photographs leave only put brass right right. maybe a flag. Nobody, I buy a couple: booter landers having come on the moons, pretty big are really littering right, so overtime. Obviously this has been kind of updated.
urban other proposed treaties that would end up beefing up these rules and defining them there are, but they have had limited success in adoption, and there are a lot of reasons for that. So a proposed treaty in two thousand and four teen would have placed more limitations on weapons in space, at least in theory- draft treaty is formally called the treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space and of the threat or use of force against outer space objects supposed to limit states abilities to do things like launch missile attacks on satellite sorra or put weapons position, into space, even if it's not mass destruction, and there are two countries that submitted this treaty to the United Nations and it was Russia and China. Now the United States opposed the treaty and said it would not sign that's a treaty, and you might think well why? What the? U S say
I'm not gonna signed. A treaty that doesn't allow us to have a nice Does that mean the? U S is very much interested in sending up tons of weapons in the space of a year that that part is hard to answer, but I can tell you what the official answers have been, which is that china- and this is there does the I am paraphrasing, but this is their perspective. Not the thoroughly by own, ok, China and russia- don't play fair, her father, that's what they're others would. Essentially, the message has been: is there that this treaty is I think that if the United States signed it because the EU I saw the good guys remember this narrative, their say sure that U S or the good guys. The? U S would by this treaty, but Russia and China there trick see my precious
Ellie would totally ignore the treaty and say look at the dumb Americans. There are totally abiding by these rules. We ve sat, whereas we are actually gonna send up as many weapons into space as we can and we're going to end up getting dominance. It'll be an arms race in space that you will have a leg up on, because we're not paying attention to the the treaty. Ray is difficult because there is the they go back to this idea of verification right yes, and that is such a tricky Nearly impossible thing when you're talking about state secrets like this, how do you How do you verify that? No one is up to anything shady right. That was in fact there was actually the way the? U S a represent, where did they gonna like your way? Better though well and other people have essentially said more or less what I said just a nicer language, what they these specific line was that this treaty, as it stands, is impossible to verify meaning.
you cannot there's no there's. No regulatory agency could monitor stay and make certain that no one was actually doing what the treaty says. So, in other words, is it that you can enforce the treaty because you cannot be certain, The people are abiding by it, and so ends up being a meaningless treaty. In the first place it doesn't work because there's no means too monitor and therefore enforce it. So if there's no, way to do that, then the treaty might as well not even exist, because we you are doing is creating a pressure on countries that want to follow it in good faith, while other countries may not share that view, just don't violated anyway. was there's no way to tell that they're violating it because again, there's no way to monitor it and verify it. So I I totally get their point like. I don't disagree with that right and some
might say well, there's also old ulterior motives that could be in play. Let's say that the United States wants to be able to have the option to send Hence even if they're, not weapons of mass destruction of the space right, cynics signing such a treaty would say They would not do that and maybe they want the option to remain open it. be that their even specific plans in place there were not privy to and obviously would not be privy to I'd like to think that that's not the case, but it same time. I'd also like to think the government's not looking at all my emails and that unfortunately, has proven to be false. So it's always weird. When an intern at the NSC responds when your emails yeah, I yeah I give you sent me like. I'm emailing you and the USA in terms like albums at lunch right now it he's not going to respond until like four Gary. I appreciate it yeah, but how is the school that style kind of creepy like say, hi to your dad for Manga,
That would be weird, but also just just a new here. Also, We know that the ability to interfere with another state satellites, he could be so crucial, so pivotal that it's going to happen. Nobody's gonna, try to do that as, as you have said before, you said no to this space more stuff is not some distance safe. I think no real and it's kind of were kind of in the middle of the store ear. The idea that China, bringing on a satellite by firing a missile at it pure because that was the most effective means of taking on the satellite does not ring true right right, definitely seems more like a demonstration of here's what we are capable of doing so, if we ever enter an actual like conflict, whether it's an official war or not. We have the capability of bringing down your satellites, yeah and those proven
yeah and when you were talking about satellites that could provide communication, GPS Data, all this kind of stuff, I mean obviously the further out the satellite is the harder it is for you to create a system that is going to be capable bringing it down you're, going to be able to hit the ones that are more in low earth orbit than the ones that are further out? I mean you're talking about a target that further out is as moving an incredible speed right, yeah, like the month thing, is impossible. It certainly is. It is just a lot harder, but at any rate that the capability has been demonstrated and that is a very vulnerable invalid target. If you are, if you're, very serious about warfare right yeah, absolutely and this this brings us all back around to the the the subject we looked at stay, which is the x thirty seven, and I gotta tell you man, I've been holding onto this reference for the whole show's, okay, just gotta, let it go yeah. There's something about an unmanned vehicle in the darkness:
the space to sort of orbiting in the silence that is so very that horizon to mean yeah. What's gonna come back the next time it lands lower hit yeah, I found your thing. Man I'll know what happened to the driver. He was gone when I got on a promise. Think thanks. I've been working on a care to her well yeah and its interest, because this is not necessarily the of the these space plain discussion. There have been some other talks about what the space plain might do, even in fate in light of the counter argument, saying that perhaps it's not the most efficient or useful, means of getting things in space. The air force itself had announced back and twenty eleven that it would develop a new spacecraft based on the same design. They'll be even larger than the Ex thirty seven you remember the thirty seven is a hundred twenty percent larger than the export right. This way, be bigger than the Ex thirty seven.
The numbers range between like one hundred and sixty and one hundred and eighty five percent so bigger by almost a factor of two when you get to the higher ends and that this one would potentially have a pressure I used compartment, which means that could carry stuff one lives, yeah, yeah and- and the it has been suggested, could carry a a group of astronauts up to six into space. They don't have to pilot, the thing right, because it could still have autonomous control, although they said they would also have manual control so astronauts could. Presumably, I assume astronauts, maybe they mean manual control from the ground, which is also a possibility here, but that the astronauts would not necessarily have to pilot this thing. It'll be the x thirty, seven c and creative name yeah, no idea.
if that project is still happening or not like it was announced on twenty eleven. But again, when you talk about secret space planes right, you don't get a lot about dates until launch one and then it lands, and then people like. Oh so I guess it's thank you. We don't know, I mean we, I dont know people know some, not me ray, I'm not I'm not pretty to such information, but it could be that we see a development and who knows maybe there will be demonstrable uses for space, plain technology that end up being You know the the best option and that the objection saying that hey, we have other means of getting stuff into space that end up being less complicated than this methodology. Maybe that'll end up being moot it's kind of hard, say right now, because, obviously, if you were to send astronauts up you're, probably not doing one of those crazy,
four hundred or how would I know the body, it would be very, very tough. On the on the human and I can't imagine you can carry enough oxygen. Water food yeah, you know breathe, breathing like yeah yeah, all the stuff. All the stuff is necessary to keep people alive. I don't think you could carry all of that aboard a space plane, that's designed to be up there for six hundred days. That's just not! happen yeah? So, even if you were to say well, we want to find out what happened faster, not there in a spacecraft two years and whether or not they come back as the fidessa horror I mean yeah, you know it's worth a shot of Blake but one thing we have learned about space radiation is: it does not work. The way that Marvel comics may have no is a child. No it can. It can really mess you up big time, yandah. You know you talk about particles that move with a ton of energy. They have the capacity to do really
cellular level damage that can end up causing q tissues, yeah like irreparable damage, but let's go: let's go big because, despite these prop yeah right right the secrecy and I know it's her well urine spooky smoking stuff, I'm so excited, because this gives us one one tiny step closer to one of the one of the big dreams have had. Since we are working together, which is the pie castle. yeah and if they can just get us to the moon, Jonathan, we could do the rest. My dear I below quiet up there I don't know how we're going to talk into the microphone. The way of the set up or we will just go into sound studio, come on. We all just to just move the whole studio to them. That makes more sense. I was just thinking of the table like a supper and also about how long the cords would have to be, and that any we asked. No we'd have to wait.
it'll, be able to sell a beer. Yeah that'd be a noticeable delay and but I'm still in favor of it personally, because I think I think they could really position us in a way that other podcasts just haven't thought right to take advantage. That I mean it's kind of amazing to me that haven't you honestly, Uk Yo, though dont real idea, the idea of listeners wait so anyway. This has been a lot of fun to talk about the, even though obviously, what we don't know as members of the general public, far outweighs what we do know, but it's also fun just to kind of explore the psychology of not just like conspiracy theories in the sense of, and since we don't have information, we have to fill that vacuum right, but also just the idea of what what could be the motives for pursuing this. I mean
We are talking about something that caused a huge amount of money, maybe ultimately it's just a test of autonomous technology and a new, a new form like unusual, do a new environment and that that ultimately could become really important. But in the town it s an implementation? I hope you enjoy the classic episode of textile from twenty fifteen I'll have to do an update on this one. Obviously, but, if you have suggestions for other topics that I should tackle, whether its a company technology, a trend in tech. Anything like that. Reach out to me on Twitter, the handle for the show is text stuff, H S, W, I'll talk to you again really sick text is an eye heart radio production for more podcast. From my heart radio visit the Iheart Radio, an apple pie
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Transcript generated on 2022-05-02.