In 1999, NASA selected Boeing Integrated Defense Systems to design and develop the vehicle, which was built by the California branch of Boeing's Phantom Works. Over a four-year period NASA contributed $109 million, the Air Force $16 million, and Boeing $67 million to the project. At the end of 2002, a new $301 million contract was awarded to Boeing in the framework of NASA's Space Launch Initiative.
The X-37 was transferred from NASA to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on September 13, 2004. The program has become a classified project, though it is not known whether DARPA will maintain this status for the project. NASA's spaceflight program may be centered around the Crew Exploration Vehicle, while DARPA will promote the X-37 as part of the independent space policy that the Department of Defense has pursued since the Challenger disaster.
The X-37 was originally designed to be carried into orbit in the Space Shuttle cargo bay, but underwent redesign for launch on a Delta IV or comparable rocket after it was determined that a shuttle flight would be uneconomical. The X-37's aerodynamic design was derived from the Space Shuttle, hence the X-37 has a similar lift-to-drag ratio, and a lower cross range at high altitudes and mach numbers than the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle.
As part of its Space Support mission goals, X-37 was designed to rendezvous with friendly satellites to refuel them, or to replace failed solar arrays using a robotic arm. Its payload could also support Space Control (Defensive Counter-Space, Offensive Counter-Space), Force Enhancement and Force Application.
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