More about Russian plans to develop a competitor to the X-37: Russians at work on military spaceplane – Flight Global. There have also been rumors of a Chinese X-37 style project, though I don’t know if they are credible.
This sounds promising:
> Gary Payton, US Air Force under-secretary for space programmes, has told Flight International that the goal of the X-37B programme is to be able to land the craft and fly it again less than 10-15 days later: “If we were in a surge environment, where we were putting up a whole bunch of satellites over a month or two, I would like to see the X-37B handle much more like a [Lockheed] SR-71.”
Flying 10-15 hours later would be a better goal but at least DoD is finally on the right track.
I’ve been thinking about the way RLV development in the US has worked out backwards. Just when the over-sized, over-complex and wildly over-expensive Shuttle is retiring, we see a small reusable spaceplane prototype launched with expendables at relatively moderate cost. Any sensible RLV program would have done the opposite – start in the 1970s with low cost prototypes that gradually surmount the myriad obstacles in the way to robust reusability. By the 80s, the knowledge of how to build fully reusable and cost-effective vehicles would have then been in hand. Today that knowledge is being generated by a diversity of private projects, both suborbital and orbital, and by government projects like the X-37. I expect that these efforts will lead to fully reusable and cost-effective orbital systems before 2020. Better late than never but an expensive way to get there.