x-37B lands from space--why the moon suits?

This handsome baby just landed at Kennedy Space Center from space.

  1. Why the hazmat suits?

  2. Did any of us know this was up there in the first place?

  3. Cape Canaveral is not Kennedy Space Center?

The spacecraft will be using hydrazine, as a fuel for its reaction control system. That stuff is nasty enough that you would want to be in a hazmat suit when making the craft safe. The RCS may still be in use during part of the hypersonic flight after re-entry, so the possibility of surface contamination is quite real.

It was launched rather a while ago (just on 2 years) but there was no secret about the launch. But is wasn’t as if it was foremost in people’s minds.

Cape Canaveral is the entire location, KSC is located on Cape Canaveral. The Air Force’s facilities are next to KSC, but not actually part of it.


  1. The X-37B uses hypergolic propellant, specifically hydrazine. Hydrazine is highly toxic.

  2. Those who know aren’t allowed to talk about it in public. We know that the X-37 was originally designed to test some new technologies for reusable spacecraft (e.g. advanced heat shield technology) but those don’t require long duration missions.

  3. Cape Canaveral is a geographic area. Kennedy Space Center is located in Cape Canaveral. Cape Canaveral was renamed Cape Kennedy at one point, then later changed back to the original name.

Wow. Menage-a-trois GQ post.


This, plus probably some other stuff too. The space shuttle had a similar team and specialized equipment/procedures for safing the orbiter after touchdown/rollout (scroll down to “RECOVERY CONVOY OPERATIONS”); potential orbiter hazards included hydrazine, ammonia, and hydrogen.

That’s what I was thinking. If you just want to test the technology, you’d launch and land a lot quicker. It stayed up for two years for something else.

There is needless to say lots of speculation as to what was being done. Publicly the mission was testing a new Hall thruster (ie ion drive) and was doing long term exposure materials testing. The latter would account for a long mission. Even the Hall thruster would require a pretty extended mission as it is intended to operate for extended periods.

(The LDEF mission in the 80’s was marooned after the Challenger accident, and was retrieved so long after its intended duration that some test materials had totally gone.)

But it is difficult to believe that the mission didn’t carry anything else. You can probably consult your favourite conspiracy theory site for random speculation.

Right. And what’s unique about the X-37 is the ability to return from orbit. What kind of payload needs to be returned from space?? Returning equipment just to repair or upgrade and launch again is not cost-effective. Returning a data storage device was done with film cameras early on, but seems unlikely in the digital age - if it collects too much data to be transmitted, then 2 years worth of such data would require an enormous storage device. And the X-37 is too small to be carrying a human being + 2 years of life support supplies.

I think the only remaining possibility is, it’s some kind of experiment that requires the sample / specimen to be analyzed in the lab later. It could be biological, or material science (e.g. crystal growth in microgravity), or simply exposing various materials to the space environments and studying the effect (like the Long Duration Exposure Facility).

Materials testing experiment carried on the mission: http://www.space.com/29434-x37b-space-plane-nasa-experiment.html

How better to fake the materials testing reports than to send the materials into space for two years?

There are various reasons to return experiments from space, including for structural materials and energetics testing after being exposed to cumulative space radiation such at the METIS experiment already referenced. It could also be used to test maneuvering and on-orbit observation systems for various purposes including salvage and recovery, orbital debris abatement, and strategic or defensive redeployment of space assets. Some of this testing can be performed on the International Space Station (ISS), but anything that is ITAR/controlled is obviously problematic in an international operating environment, and no toxic, caustic, or flammable materials can be brought into the habitable areas of the ISS or even deployed near the ISS where it could come into contact with the structure.

As others have noted, Kennedy Space Center is a NASA facility that is on Merritt Island which is adjacent to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). The X-37B is a vehicle that is run as part of the Air Force Space Command (AFSC) Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) program, although it was originally a DARPA-funded program operated by NASA. (As an aside, AFSC dwarfs NASA, employing almost twice as many people in various roles including space awareness and surveillance, space operations, operating and maintaining the Global Positioning System constellation and ground segments, and even many basic research science missions; the major distinction is that ASFC does not have any crewed programs or perform interplanetary research efforts.)

For NASA launches from KSC, CCAFS provides range safety and trajectory tracking support, and NASA frequently buys rides on the Air Force managed United Launch Alliance (ULA) Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) launch vehicles (Delta II, Delta IV, Atlas V) from Air Force launch complexes, so there is a lot of cross-application. The X-37B in this case did actually land on the strip at KSC where the Shuttle Orbiter Vehicle (OV) previously landed. As noted, the vehicle does use toxic hypergolic propellants for reaction/reentry control system, just as the OV did, and so the technicians safing and inspecting the vehicle are wearing personal protective gear (PPG) to avoid exposure to any residual hazardous materials.


While I think about the posts, I’ll go look for an OP (of mine, I think) focused on the topic of who does what under which governmental/bureaucratic control between AF and NASA…and now I see Space Command, which is a thing different, as well as DARPA getting their own own playing fields independent of those two.

I’ll revive that thread because now I’m interested to learn more.
ETA: I Booleaned the hell out my searches, but no joy.

Either drift/hijack away or I’ll goose the topic or new thread.

Your call…

If you wsih to speculate, just ask your self “What kind of experiments take two years to collect data, and need to be returned to earth for analysis?”

Potential winners includ things like new armors against micro-metiorites, means for sweeping junk out of near orbit, star dust capture, solar wind analysis, deep image mapping of the earth where the military wishes the data to remain extremely secure, and many others.

Possible presence of hydrazine was the reason that the EPA lead the initial search for Columbia shuttle fallout across East Texas. Their contractors were called to each reported piece of debris to log and test the components prior to US Forest Service staff performing more thorough searches.

After JFK was assassinated, Cape Canaveral changed its name to Cape Kennedy. Then the space center was built, and called itself, naturally, Kennedy Space Center. Then, ten years later, they changed the name of the Cape back to Canaveral (along with the Air Force Base), but the space center stayed Kennedy.

Actually, it might just be better to quote a section of the Wikipedia page:

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station had, up until about 1992, been under the Air Force Systems Command (as was the host base, Patrick AFB, a few miles to the south). It is now, as others noted, a part of AF Space Command.

CCAFS has tenants beyond AF operations, including NASA, the US Army (for Pershing tests), the US Navy (Trident tests and submarine and support ship docking facilities), and others.

I left CCAFS in 1987, so the extent of my direct knowledge is rather dated. Helluva place to work, and I had access to pretty much every facility there.

I’d say Ninja-a-trois.

Amarillo Globe News, February 02, 2003: [“Shuttle debris might be dangerous”

“NASA Facts” Handout (date?] [URL=“https://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/pdf/167433main_Propellants08.pdf”]Space Shuttle Use of Propellants and Fluids](http://amarillo.com/stories/020203/spe_shuttledebris.shtml)

HAZMAT suits, mysterious mission; it’s not too early in the thread ----

“I’m not saying it’s Aliens but … IT’S ALIENS :eek::eek::eek:!!!”