Super Secret X-37B Nears One Year In Orbit Doing ???

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxiing on the flightline on March 30th, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Florida. Credit: USAF

For years now, the program to develop the X-37B spacecraft has been shrouded in secrecy. Originally intended as part of a NASA project to develop a reusable unmanned spacecraft, this Boeing-designed spaceplane was taken over by the Department of Defense in 2004. And while it has been successfully tested on multiple occasions, there remain some unanswered questions as to its intended purpose and what has been taking place during these flights.

This, predictably, has lead to all kinds of rumors and speculation, with some suggesting that it could be a spy plane while others think that it is intended to deliver space-based weapons. It’s latest mission – which was dubbed OTV-4 (Orbital Test Vehicle-4) – has been especially clandestine. And after nearly a year in orbit, it remains unclear what the X37B has been doing up there all this time.

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The World’s Rockets to Scale

A graphics of all rockets that have flown, shown to scale. Credit: Tyler Skrabek

Inspired by a book and poster from 1995, titled “Rockets of the World,” graphic artist Tyler Skrabek has provided a new and updated “clean” look for his latest work.

“The ‘Rockets of the World’ poster emulates a 1960 style of drawing,” he said, “employing a consistent pallet across all rockets allowing for a distraction-free look at the size and power of the world’s greatest machines.”

Skrabek told Universe Today that he’s been working on this poster for 3 months, but he’s had the idea of creating it since 2012.

It is available in various sizes on etsy here.

“The ‘Rockets of the World’ poster is something I put a lot of work into,” he said, “as it’s been my sole project for the last 3 months. Three years ago I was just interested in rockets and wanted to see how the most popular rockets stacked up against each other. But when I looked online to see if I could find a chart, all that existed were height comparisons using technical drawings with 3D renderings of newer rockets squished in. There just weren’t any posters that I could find that used consistent 3D full color renderings and that’s what I set out to create.”

He wanted an uncluttered look for his poster, and therefore used a set of rules to eliminate some rockets: The Rocket had to have more than 3 successful flights and each rocket had to be unique – no later versions from the same rocket family, such as the Soyuz.

Also, rocket wannabes didn’t make the cut … not yet anyway.

“Just to keep things tidy I choose not to include rockets that haven’t flown yet on the off-chance they don’t actually make it off the ground,” Tyler said on reddit. “But rest assured there will be a version that includes the Falcon 9 Heavy as soon as it does.”

A few months ago he created the “Rockets of Human Spaceflight” poster and posted it on reddit. He took suggestions from fellow redditors to create the final version, below. He used that poster as the impetus to continue the Rockets of the World poster.

Rockets of Human Spaceflight. Credit and copyright: Tyler Skrabek.
Rockets of Human Spaceflight. Credit and copyright: Tyler Skrabek.

You can see the original “Rockets of the World” illustration from physics professor Peter Alway’s 1995 book “Rockets of the World” here.

Tyler said he’s always been passionate about space, spaceflight and human exploration in space.

“I find it fascinating that we as a society have the power to take a person, put that person inside a metal box on top of a cylinder filled with explosives and explore space,” he says on his website. “As an active member in space circles, I realized there was a lack of infographics that did a reasonable job of portraying comparisons between the various types of spacecraft while being visually appealing. I decided to research and develop a series of infographics to better explain this to the everyday person.”

You can see more of his work on his website here, including his great space infographics here.

On reddit he said, “I hope you like these posters and can help me come up with even more exciting projects!”

Bradbury Landing in Stunning Color and 3-D

Bradbury Landing color panorama. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems. with image editing by James Canvin.

The image editing wizards at UnmannedSpaceflight are having a field day with all the sensational views being sent back by the Curiosity rover. Above is a beautiful color 360-degree panoramic view edited by James Canvin of the newly named “Bradbury Landing,” Curiosity’s landing place. The view of Aeolis Mons (Mount Sharp) is simply stunning, along with parts of (and shadows of) the rover itself. Click on the image to have access to larger views. James said he added the latest downloads from Curiosity in order to show the top of Aeolis Mons, and extended the sky to make the view complete.

See more views, below:

Aeolis Mons/Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/image editing by Stuart Atkinson

Here’s a view focusing on just Aeolis Mons by Stuart Atkinson at his wonderful Gale Gazette website, which highlights Curiosity’s latest explorations. He said he “boosted” the colors “just a bit, to bring out some detail.” Click on any of these images to see larger versions from Stu to see more detail — one could spend hours looking at the all the features! And presumably, the MSL science team is doing just that!

And there’s more detail from another image enhanced by Stu, a closeup of one part of the huge mountain in the center of Gale Crater, Curiosity’s ultimate destination for exploration:

The “Promised Land” at the base of Aeolis Mons. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/image editing by Stuart Atkinson

Just look at this intriguing area of mesas and buttes that Curiosity will one day, hopefully be able to explore!

A view of Curiosity and the first tracks left by this rover on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Now it’s time to grab your 3-D glasses to appreciate a the great view from Curiosity!

3-D view of Curiosity’s tracks. NASA/JPL-Caltech/image editing by Stuart Atkinson

3-D view of wheel tracks left by the Curiosity rover on Mars, as captured by the rover’s hazard avoidance cameras. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stuart Atkinson

Thanks to Stuart and James and all the UnmannedSpaceflight image editing wizards for providing us all a better appreciation of the location and views from Curiosity’s new science spot. We look forward to more images as they become available! You can see all the raw images straight from Curiosity here.

8 Years on Mars: Downloadable Rover Poster

8 years ago today, January 24, the Opportunity rover landed on Mars. In what has become a tradition, Stu Atkinson and Astro0 from Unmanned Spaceflight have teamed up to create a poster and poem combo to celebrate the occasion. While we fondly remember Spirit’s now-finished journey, the poster features scenes from Opportunity’s view of the ‘Tribulation’ hill and the hills of the crater rim beyond. And no, Oppy didn’t actually spin out in double donuts on Mars to create the ‘figure 8.’

“For a little effect, we’ve added the ‘figure 8’ in the form of the rovers own tracks on Mars,” Astro0 said. “While they may have dreamed of doing it, I’m sure no rover driver would ever be tempted to leave such a mark on Mars for real. So it was only right and proper that I and Photoshop do it for them.”

Click on the image above for a larger version or visit the Astro0 website for higher resolution versions that you can download to print out as a poster or use for your computer wallpaper. Stu’s poem — which both waxes wistful about the year of the MER rovers landing and prognosticates Mars’ future — is written out below:

8 Years on Mars

Hard to believe the Homeworld has circled Sol eight times
Since the first MER bounced and boinged to a historic halt on Mars,
Spirit followed faithfully soon after by her sister, Opportunity,
Just as Clark had followed Lewis two centuries before.
Babies born bloodied and bawling on the day chase girls
In busy schoolyards now; wide-eyed, Star Trek t-shirt wearing
Interns who stumbled along the deer-stalked paths of JPL
Now have interns of their own, and peer at screens painted
Picasso-shades by read date beamed from the true Final Frontier…

In a thousand years, when Mars has oceans of retina-burning blue,
And honeymooning couples crump across the snow-capped summit
Of Olympus, the names ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’ will still be
Spoken wistfully; and tourists from Titan, explorers from Europa
And Hyperion’s most respected historians will stand before
The rovers, displayed in all their restored gory in the Great
Museum of Mars and envy us, this generation which saw Gusev’s
Rugged Rocks and Meridiani’s misty mountains for the first time,
In 2004, the year Earth finally conquered Mars.

By Stu Atkinson

To see maps of where the rovers are now, see the Mars Rover website.

See more images and musings on space at the Astro0 website, and follow along Oppy’s journey at the Stu’s Road to Endeavour site. For more skillfully mastered images from the MER mission and more, visit Unmanned Spaceflight.

7 Years on Mars: Downloadable Poster

7 years on Mars for Spirit and Opportunity. Poster by Glen Nagle. Click for access to downloadable versions.


Today, January 3, 2011, is the 7th anniversary of the Spirit rover landing on Mars. In their tradition, Glen Nagle and Stu Atkinson from Unmanned Spaceflight have teamed up to create a poster and poem combo to celebrate. The poster includes scenes from both Spirit’s and Opportunity’s adventures – Glen and Stu challenge you to see how many places you can name. Click on the images or visit Glen’s Astro0 website for higher resolution versions that you can download to print a poster or use for wallpaper.

And happy anniversary to the Mars Exploration Rovers and their science and engineering teams!

MER poster with poem by Stu Atkinson. Image by Glen Nagle. Click for access to higher resolution versions.

And here’s the poem: