The Air Force’s X-37B--its secret robotic space plane that’s been orbiting the Earth on a mission shrouded in mystery for more than a year--landed safely in the wee hours Saturday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Orbital Test Vehicle 2 (OTV-2) is the second X-37B test vehicle to successfully complete an orbital mission and autonomously return to Earth, following sister spacecraft OTV-1’s 225-day mission in 2010.
NASA may no longer possess a reusable vehicle for traveling to and from low earth orbit, but the United States Air Force has all but established a permanent presence up there. Maybe you’ve forgotten about the X-37B, the USAF’s pilotless, reusable space plane that’s been in orbit since launching on March 5, 2011, but it’s still up there making laps.
Here at PopSci we don’t like to spread rumors. And that’s how I generally like to start off a post wherein I intend to propagate some kind of hearsay rooted mostly in speculation. Hearsay like this: America’s X-37B spaceplane, the shuttle-like unmanned robotic orbiter that the Air Force put into orbit for the second time back in March, is probably (possibly) spying on China’s Tiangong-1 space station.
Anyone who has seen the grim images of a crumbling Detroit circulating the Internet, or watched another so-called “Sputnik moment” wander idly by with nothing but lip service from our leaders, may feel that we aren't exactly pushing boundaries like we used to. But in a beautiful eulogy for an era of bygone glory, the WSJ has hit upon a point that’s particularly sobering: for the first time in centuries, humanity is quite literally slowing down.
Three months after its first mission ended, the military is launching another X-37B space plane on Friday, in a second classified mission for the X-37B program. If the weather holds up, the second X-37B orbiter will launch Friday afternoon on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, according to launch manager United Launch Alliance.
In what some are calling a second iteration of the space race, it seems the Russians have found a “Sputnik moment” of their own. In the wake of the recent successful wrap-up of the X-37B’s first orbital mission—a 220-day affair that reportedly saw the Air Force’s mysterious unmanned space plane complete a range of on-orbit maneuvers and tests that the U.S.A.F.
All good top secret robotic space plane test missions must come to an end, and so it goes for the Air Force’s X-37B, otherwise known as the Orbital Test Vehicle 1 (OTV-1). After seven months of thrilling amateur satellite watchers with its shifting orbital flight patterns and making China nervous, the X-37B could be back on the ground at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as soon as this Friday.
Amateur astronomers on two continents have spilled some military secrets, finding clues that suggest that the Air Force's recently-launched, top-secret X-37B spaceplane is being prepped for advanced recon missions, the New York Times reports.
Future space marines might commemorate yesterday as a historic moment, based on the coinciding launches of DARPA's hypersonic glider and an Air Force space plane. Both test vehicles could pave the way for new warfighter transports or weapons systems, the Ares Defense Blog reports.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.