Air Force space drone's secret mission hits one-year milestone

March 9, 2012 By W.J. Hennigan

One year after the Air Force blasted it into orbit, an experimental robotic space drone continues to circle the Earth.

Its mission and payload, however, remain a mystery.

The X-37B Orbital , which looks like a miniature unmanned version of the , was launched last March from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

At the time, Air Force officials offered few details about the mission, saying that the simply provided a way to test new technologies in space, such as satellite sensors and other components.

It was slated to land 270 days later, which would have been in November, on a 15,000-foot airstrip at Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara, Calif. But the Air Force extended the mission and never announced an exact landing date.

Air Force Lt. Austin Fallin, a Vandenberg spokesman, confirmed Wednesday that the X-37B is still in orbit.

It is the second X-37B launched by the military. The first one was launched in April 2010 and landed 224 days later at Vandenberg.

Some have theorized that because of its clandestine nature, the X-37B could be a precursor to an orbiting weapon, capable of dropping bombs or disabling foreign satellites as it circles the globe.

The Pentagon has repeatedly said the space plane is simply a "" for other technologies.

Both X-37Bs were built in tight secrecy by Boeing Co.'s Space and unit in Huntington Beach, Calif. Engineering work was done at the company's facilities in Huntington Beach and Seal Beach. Other components were supplied by its satellite-making plant in El Segundo, Calif.

Explore further: No landing date yet for Air Force's mystery craft

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Mar 09, 2012
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5 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2012
... or maybe, the equipment aboard is providing very useful.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2012
If it's simply new tech why the secrecy? There should be an amendment prohibiting the government from lying to us. I can understand secrecy but there is no circumstance where lying is justified. You do not need to lie to US to keep secrets.
not rated yet Mar 13, 2012
From the shape of the vehicle we can be sure that it is intended as a surface to space and back vehicle, because it is aerodynamic and has a shield for re-entry into the atmosphere.

It also has a cargo space, obviously because each time you go up there you also want to take some load with you. And it is smaller either because it is the next generation after the space shuttle, or because it is intended for often trips and/or cargos smaller that, say, the 'Hubble' telescope.

I feel confident and relaxed that what we see is a glimpse of even a distant future. This is a spaceship, meaning from surface to space.

So, even after many centuries, its going to be like this: from the earth you go to a space station with a spaceship, and from there you take another spaceship for the planets. As fast speed becomes more easy to achieve, you will not need to carry too mach fuel, and you could travel from earth's surface to the planets with the same vehicle.
not rated yet Mar 13, 2012
I wasn't surprised by the extension of the flight. This is not the first time. Hubble telescope and other things lasted longer than planned. Perhaps they just want to keep playing with their new toy.

Is there a military purpose? Well, its a project of the military. Even the name is not poetic as in other plans: Sputnic (traveller), Apollo, Atlantis, Discovery, Opportunity, Challenger, Mir (peace), Pioneer, Voyager,...

But what really, really surprises me is that this flying thing is similar to one of Lara Craufort's vehicles.

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