Many people are aware of the fact that we do secret CIA and Defense and Intel launches of space craft from the Vandenberg air force base, Indeed the Cape Canaveral air force station in Florida does secret launches that land at Vandenberg. And most are aware the Hubble had a twin that was used for a “secret” mission. Secret Space is a great deal bigger that NASA (public) space. indeed NASA loss of employment is at least partly offset by the space craft /space mission workers hired at the Boeing’s Phantom Works. Not to worry – we are perhaps just getting rid of some government workers as we shut down part of Canaveral, replacing them with private sector workers?

Now while I am told the secret space budget is larger than the NASA budget, in contrast to the secret army, airforce and navy for the CIA which are a much smaller than the Defense Department versions, I don’t know that for a fact – its secret. So folks guess at the cost of each revealed item – with a few billion being the guess for the latest toy for our boys.

Officially the latest toy is called the X-37B and is part of the program called the X-37B OTV program. And the program, which started as a NASA project, but was transferred in 2004 to the Pentagon’s research and development arm, DARPA, and was then transferred one last time to the “secret” (or at least secretive) Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, has all of two vehicles working at this time

William Shelton, head of the Air Force Space Command, made a passing mention of this program in public to Congress, noting that the first craft landed after spending 7 months in orbit while the one that just landed had spent 15 months in space with its secret payload, thus justifying the development of this unmanned spacecraft that is lifted to orbit aboard an Atlas 5 rocket and is able to land itself like a plane on return – indeed it sounds a lot like the now terminated shuttle program, doesn’t it? So good-bye NASA SHUTTLE and HELLO to the military program testing “robotically controlled reusable spacecraft technologies”. Now what was that classified payload again? Based on its low orbit and inclination, the odds are it is an experimental spy satellite doing reconnaissance or intelligence gathering rather than communications. And we thought Google Earth imaging was of high quality – but then we’ve never seen what the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office has developed.

I know that we do not question any Military Industrial Complex project, but one wonders about the usefulness of the X-37B OTV program. No doubt having eyes over an area quickly is important, but isn’t that what drones are for? And if you just want to put a spy satellite into space, the CIA disposable spacecraft approach is much more affordable.

Well, not to worry, the third launch of this toy is planned for the fall using the X-37B that flew first for those 9 months mentioned above. And heck, why complain about a little 11,000-pound space plane that stands 9 1/2 feet tall and is just over 29 feet long, with a wingspan of less than 15 feet, with two angled tail fins rather than a single vertical stabilizer, using in orbit its solar panels that unfurl to charge batteries for electrical power. Now that last part has to be worth the money. And if the need to use an Atlas five is a problem because of the long lead time to prep things for the launch, we will just throw more money at the program and get a better launch vehicle that would be ready to go more quickly.

Now lets get back to discussing the cutting of Food Stamps in the new Agriculture bill – should the cut be the Senate’s $4 billion over 10 years, or the House’s idea of $180 billion over 10 years?