Message to Eagle reports
For the second time since it was launched, the classified U.S Air Force Space Shuttle has changed orbit and disappeared again.
The X-37B is controlled remotely, and can automatically land. The question people ask today is: Has the US Air Force landed its secret space plane?
The X-37B has been orbiting the Earth for 173 days since it was launched on April 22 on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The unmanned vehicle has gone missing once before. It happened back in late July when it stayed off course for two weeks and forced the amateurs that monitor the satellite to find it again, and recalculate its orbital path. It was then detected by amateur skywatcher Greg Roberts of Cape Town, South Africa
Now something has happened again. The plane did not pass over at the expected time on the nights of October 7th and October 9th.
The X-37B is a military project and its purpose remain unknown. Officials are maintaining silence on the craft’s mission.
According to the Air Force fact sheet: “The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is a non-operational system that will demonstrate a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The objectives of the OTV program include space experimentation, risk reduction and a concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.”
There has been much speculation whether the craft is a military attempt to weaponize space. However, according to former Air Force officer Brian Wheeden, who is currently a Technical Adviser to the Secure World Foundation, the likelihood that the space plane could be used as a weapon is equal to zero. Instead, the X-37B has excellent capability as an orbital spy platform, Brian Wheeden points out. According to the Pentagon, a second X-37B is already under construction.
The X-37B’s solar array allows the craft to stay aloft for 270 days. When is it expected to land again? Not even the U.S. Air Force can or will answer the question.
“In all honesty, we don’t know when it’s coming back,” US Air Force spokesman Gary Payton told reporters when X-37B was launched.
For the time being it remains unknown what has happened with X-37B. Has the space plane landed, or is the craft slightly off course?
Amateur astronomers will undoubtedly be busy once again searching for the little unmanned space plane.
On November 17, 2006, the U.S. Air Force announced it would develop the X-37B from the NASA X-37A. The Air Force version is designated X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV). The OTV program builds on industry and government investments by DARPA, NASA and the Air Force. The X-37B effort will be led by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and includes partnerships with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Boeing is the prime contractor for the OTV program. The X-37B can remain in orbit for up to 270 days at a time.
The Secretary of the Air Force states the OTV program will focus on “risk reduction, experimentation, and operational concept development for reusable space vehicle technologies, in support of long term developmental space objectives.”
The X-37B was originally scheduled for launch in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle, but following the Columbia accident, it was transferred to a Delta II 7920. It was subsequently transferred to a shrouded configuration on the Atlas V following concerns over the unshrouded spacecraft’s aerodynamic properties during launch.
The first orbital flight of the first X-37B, named USA-212, was launched on an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on April 22, 2010, at 23:58 GMT. The spacecraft was placed into low Earth orbit for testing, then will be de-orbited for landing.
While the U.S. Air Force continues to reveal few orbital details after the first X-37B was successfully placed in orbit due to the secretive nature of the mission, amateur astronomers have claimed to have identified the experimental spacecraft in orbit and are sharing their findings. A worldwide network of amateur astronomers have reportedly determined as of May 22, 2010, that it is in an inclination of 39.99 degrees, circling the Earth once every 90 minutes in an orbit 401 kilometers by 422 kilometers.
Following their missions, X-37B spacecraft are to land on a runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California with Edwards Air Force Base as an alternate site. A second X-37B is being manufactured for a test mission scheduled for 2011.
The Pentagon has strongly denied claims that the X-37B’s mission supports the development of space-based weapons. A group of amateur sky watchers with members around the globe has concluded that the spacecraft’s mission is in support of space-based surveillance and reconnaissance technology; they reported the X-37B’s track took it over North Korea, Afghanistan and other trouble spots. According to them, the spacecraft passes over the same given spot on Earth every four days, and operates at altitude of 255 miles (410 km), which would be typical for a military surveillance satellite.
Another update 3/12/10 its landed http://www.suasnews.com/2010/12/2923/x37b-has-landed/
Yet another update post flight pictures http://www.suasnews.com/2010/12/2948/x-37b-after-landing-photos/