Space Plane Secretly Orbiting Earth

02 Jun 2019

OSR blog post

In 2012, the United States Air Force launched an orbital test vehicle into space. Read on to learn more about space plane X-37B.

Since 2012 an orbital test vehicle (otv) known as X-37B has been orbiting low Earth orbit. What it’s doing up there no one knows except for the United States Air force. In 1999, NASA worked to develop two vehicles. One was an approach and landing test vehicle and one orbital vehicle. However, NASA moved the program the government’s defense agency, and the project went classified. Then, in 2006, the Air Force announced that Boeing would make an X-37B vehicle. Since then Boeing has made two X-37B space planes for the Air Force.

Space Plane X-37B

What do we know about x-37B? For starters, it looks like NASA’s space shuttle. However, the X-37B does not match the size of the original space shuttle. NASA’s space shuttle was 122 feet (37 m) long and had a wingspan of 78 feet (24m). The x-37B measures 29 feet (8.8 meters) long, with a wing space of 15 feet (4.6 m). The space shuttle’s payload bay could hold two of the X-37B planes. The X-37B rides into orbit aboard the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket. Similar to the space shuttle, the X-37B lands on a runway. In contrast, the plane operates by remote control instead of piloted commands.

Secret Mission?

Records indicate that it has flown numerous payloads into space. Some people speculate that the space plane is a type of space weapon. Others believe that it captures enemy satellites. The official U.S. Air Force statement is that the project is “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force.” Whatever the purpose we know that it spends a lot of time in space. Records indicate that the space plane can spend up to 270 days in low earth orbit. People tracking the space plane know that it has spent far more time in orbit on each of its missions. For example, the second and third mission saw the place orbit 469 day and 674 days, respectively. Furthermore, the fourth mission saw it orbit the earth 718 days before landing in May of 2017.

Scientific Research?

With missions lasting longer and longer one can assume that longevity be part of the mission. Any spacecraft that stays in space for extended periods comes in contact with large amounts of radiation. If researchers are planning trips to Mars with a space plane, this may explain the lengthy orbit periods. Other speculate that the space plane may become an emergency escape vehicle for astronauts on board the ISS. The Secretary of the Air Force stated it would focus on “risk reduction, experimentation, and operational concept development for reusable space vehicle technologies, in support of long-term developmental space objectives.” The Air Force states that this includes testing avionics, flight systems, guidance and navigation, thermal protection, insulation, propulsion, and re-entry systems.

Thanks to amateur ground observers the space plane has fallen under surveillance. It appears as a middling class star flying across the night sky. Over the years, people have made many accusations. In 2010, claims were made that the space plane would deliver weapons into space. Furthermore, in 2012, allegations were made that X-37B spied on China’s Tiangong-1’s space station module.

We may never know the real purpose of space plane X-37B. For now, we know that the next launch will happen in December of 2019. We hope that these missions are purely for space research.