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A top-secret space plane landed Friday at an air force base on the southern California coast.
The plane spent nearly two years circling Earth on a classified mission. Known as the X-37B, it resembles a mini space shuttle...
...Just what the plane was doing during its 674 days in orbit has been the subject of sometimes spectacular speculation.
Several experts have theorized it carried a payload of spy gear in its cargo bay. Other theories sound straight out of a James Bond film, including that the spacecraft would be able to capture the satellites of other nations or shadow China’s space lab.
The plane stands 9.5ft tall and is just over 29ft long, with a wingspan under 15ft. It weighs 11,000lbs and has solar panels that unfurl to charge its batteries once in orbit.
originally posted by: Zaphod58
a reply to: Sophie111609
Developing new technologies for both the military and civilian world, that will revolutionize several fields.
Sorry, nothing nefarious this time.
Sorry, nothing nefarious this time
Testing space tech
The secrecy surrounding the X-37B and its missions has led to some speculation that the vehicle may be a space weapon, perhaps designed to capture or disable other nations' satellites. But the Air Force insists that this is not the case, stressing that the X-37B is merely a test bed for space tech.
"The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space, and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth," Air Force officials wrote in on online X-37B fact sheet.
"Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control; thermal protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems; and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing," they added.
Experts generally agree with this assessment, saying the X-37B is not big or maneuverable enough to be a viable satellite-grabber.
"It was probably serving some sort of intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance (ISR) function," Brian Weeden, a technical adviser with the Secure World Foundation and a former orbital analyst with the Air Force, said about OTV-3.
"And the secrecy surrounding the mission being performed by the X-37B suggests the mission was being done for the NRO, perhaps to test out and evaluate new sensor technologies or techniques," Weeden told Space.com via email, referring to the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the United States' spy satellites.