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.
The X-37B has been shrouded in secrecy since it became a Pentagon project in 2006. Its launch April 22 on an Atlas 5 rocket at Cape Canaveral made headlines, but no one had much to say about its actual role, because the military is keeping mum.
But amateur astronomers say it's likely a spy craft, having tracked its orbital path. It has been flying between 40 degrees north and 40 degrees south latitude, a path that sends it flying over hot spots like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea.
It orbits about 255 miles up and it circles the Earth every 90 minutes, the amateur sat-trackers say.
The Times reports on members of an international satellite-tracking team that congregates on the email list SeeSat, notably Ted Molczan, based in Toronto, and Greg Roberts in South Africa, who made independent observations of the space plane last week. Molczan said the X-37B was passing over the same region on the ground once every four days, a pattern he called "a common feature of U.S. imaging reconnaissance satellites."
Molczan said most often, when amateurs identify a satellite, they've been looking for it; in this case, however, the discovery came about by chance, as another amateur caught the X-37B on video.
The SeeSat searchers have made other significant discoveries before; Molczan et. al were the first to report observations of the Navy's destruction of a disabled spy satellite in February 2008.
The X-37B, a smaller, unmanned space-shuttle-ish plane, can stay aloft for about nine months because it uses solar panels for power. Many military-watchers believe the current mission is meant to test equipment for a new generation of spy satellites.
The X-37B was first conceived 11 years ago as a NASA project, but the Air Force took it over during the Bush administration. Since then, little has been publicly said about the space plane's purpose. Some have speculated it will be used for space-based weapons, but the Pentagon denies this; Gary E. Payton, under secretary of the Air Force for space programs, told the Times the plane will have "no offensive capabilities."
He had previously said that the plane is ultimately meant to give the US new battlefield advantages.
The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Colorado-based Secure World Foundation have expressed concern about the craft, saying its costs outweigh its benefits and its secrecy could be counterproductive. Even if it's not meant as a weapon, the Pentagon's secrecy opens the door to speculation, according to Brian Weedon, a former Air Force officer now with the Secure World Foundation.
Plus, as he points out, nothing in Earth orbit is exceedingly difficult to find if you have the right equipment and share your data openly, as is the norm in the amateur satellite-tracking community on the web.
"If a bunch of amateurs can find it," he said, "so can our adversaries."
It's going to stay a "spy craft" until it starts blowing things us from orbit.
I couldn't understand the debate about this, cost/benefit I can understand but whenever I see a question that seems only indirectly tied to the issue it makes me suspicious. Like the ethanol debate that quickly degraded into cries of crime against humanity. There was intense political maneuvering behind it.
Of course there is secrecy on a project like this no country or person would expect differently. And if our adversaries can see it so what, good for them.
I hadn't heard of union of concerned scientists or the secure world foundation so I googled them. For the first whenever you see a take action button on a website you know its tied to a far progressive organization and the site contents showed that. Here's an excerpt of their own about us: "UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices." Tying government policy, corporate and consumer choices. Not an objective freedom loving group, -far progressive idealogy.
The second, founded by Cynda and Marcel Arsenault has at least two offices colorado and Washington. Also founded "Arsenault family foundation" and the "One Earth Future" a globalist group that again like the last group UCS ties in government, business and civil societies. Motto is "Peace Through Governance". From their site ties to Democracy Now and other far progressive groups.
So my question that may be someone has an answer to. Why are they both in such opposition to this? I smell far progressive political maneuvering, but how does this tie to a globalist progressive agenda? To weaken the US and europe? There was also listed on those sites about political blocking of missile defense shield programs in US and europe etc. There is so much that is just illogical, based on fallacious views of the world that will obviously end badly. The only logical conclusion is also the most illogical, that they, large scale well funded and interconnected groups want these things to happen. Working toward one world under communist china? Peace through totalitarianism?
If they think they can buy world peace with the loss of all freedom, nations, heritage, religion, choice and everything else that makes us human. Then aside from the almost constant state of civil war that would be occuring in the peaceful "one world" the price is too high. I would risk our occasional nation state animosity/war for freedom. Its human nature to fight different groups, the only way one world could possibly ever work is if we had a larger more dangerous enemy outside of our one world to band against. Otherwise worse than what we have now.
wait till we get a whole fleet.....say, 8, 9 or 10 with 4 or 5 in various orbits and 2 or 3 ready to launch on short notice. Who cares if our adversaries track them. They won't know which is mission ready and which, if any, are decoys. Top secret too....well, duh, why wouldn't it be? So amateurs can track it. Who cares? I'll bet there are far more sophisticated stuff the amateurs don't know about and neither does Popular Science or the New York Times.
considering this thing pretty much popped up out of nowhere. wake up in the morning and hear the airforce just launched a secret plane into space. who knows what else is sitting in a hangar somewhere. Using this launch to perfect another craft without exposing it.
I'm disappointed that NASA would have their name on a spy satellite.
NASA is not it's own private company, there is nothing to be disappointed about and it's not the first time it provided something to the US military.
I think this is a 'spy' plane by default, who knows what it's actually for.
Power and beauty the Saturn V rocket always does the trick
www youtube com/watch?v=wvWHnK2FiCk
Interestingly an Ancient word "nasa" means "he lifted" and "he journeyed" in a different spelling but same sound.
They used pictograph letters to spell with and the one meaning "he lifted" spelled the word using a snake - fire - and a symbol for authority horns. the second word meaning he journeyed used a snake - a thorn - and the eye.
Jules Verne in 1869 one hundred years before apollo 11 wrote the story of the Gun Club that sent three people to the moon. Id say the Saturn V was a pretty big gun.
not top secret anymore
It's not spying on terriorist. The plane is for spying on the drug trade.
It isn't for spying on the dope growers, although it probably could be. Locations of large poppy, coca, or marijuana fields are seen openly with pure optics and infrared all the time. I would suspect the spysat with the command/control aspects spoken of earlier. Be real nice to know if WE were going to be attacked with aerial drones, wouldn't it?
NorthernRoamer: If "POPSCI" is "the future now", why not modernize this site? Establish a rating system for commenters and allow appropriate images to be uploaded. Editing comments up to 30 minutes after post would also be a good feature.
@boka: There is no way that such a huge amount of money would be spent on a project as picayune as that.
Its not a spy sat,cause it has a cargo bay,its one of those military multipurpose vehicles,B52 bomer X-37b future bomer,its just a platform for that starwars defencive intative from the Regan\Bush era,bush era,bush era.. Funy Ray-gun...