Air Force's mysterious space plane completes full year in orbit

Not a lot is known about the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane. The military branch runs two of them, and one has been in orbit for a full year now, as of March 5. Is the spacecraft just checking the weather in orbit? Is it spying from space? Is it carrying anything in its cargo hold? Just how long will it be up there, anyway?

Surprisingly, none of these questions have inspired even the glimpse of an answer. On the most basic level, the Air Force could be conducting an endurance test, or trying out simple navigation. Still, the Air Force is mum, and the curious want to know two basic things: what's it doing up there, and what's it got inside?

From Popular Science's Clay Dillow:

Its current route and ongoing mission are closely guarded secrets — the Air Force simply says the X-37Bs are testing technologies and leaves it at that — but amateur skygazers and satellite watchers say the OTV is looping the Earth on a track common for intelligence satellites. One of the program's goals is presumably to establish methods for quickly and regularly turning a reusable space plane around for multiple, rapid-fire missions into orbit. But its payload bay — the contents of which are unknown outside the program — has the capacity to carry any number of space-based tools

Either way, the Air Force has itself a genuine space plane in the X-37B. Whether it turns out to be an X-Wing or a spy drone remains to be seen.

Discovery News, via PopSci

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