Thu, Aug 26, 2010
X-37B Has Been In Space For 4 Months, Its Mission Is Still
Amateur skywatchers, who have been tracking the Air Force's
secret X-37B spacecraft since its launch in April, lost track of
the mini-shuttle for a little over two weeks before it reappeared
... in a different orbit.
The spacecraft was launched in April amid great public fanfare
but with little clue as to its actual mission. The spacecraft was
built by Boeing for NASA, but it was later passed on to the
Pentagon, which placed it in a secret Air Force Unit. news.com.au
reports that, while backyard astronomers worldwide have been
keeping track of the orbiter, its mission remains a mystery.
And for a nearly three week period, from July 29th to August
19th, even the amateurs who had prided themselves on knowing where
X-37B was in the sky lost track of the spacecraft. When it
re-appeared, it was in an orbit that was 30 miles higher than it
had previously been.
With no official information about the mission, speculation is,
as you might expect, rampant about how the Air Force might use the
spacecraft. Ted Molczan, a Toronto skywatcher, wrote a paper after
South African Greg Robers relocated the spacecraft, saying that the
change in orbit may have been a test of the orbiters' maneuvering
system. While it uses solar power for many of its functions, it
does have a fuel tank and rocket motor which would allow the
Some have gone so far to say the X-37B is a step towards the
weaponization of space. Its design would certainly make it more
difficult to track, as it could pass over any specific region only
The Pentagon says a second orbiter is under construction.
Meanwhile the current spacecraft is about half way through its
planned nine-month mission.
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