NASA has revealed the existence of a remarkable Air Force space plane named the X-37B. The experimental aircraft was launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on May 20, 2015, and has been in continuous orbit for nearly two years.
The DailyMail.com claims that aeronautical engineers suspect that the vehicle might be a space bomber, or a clandestine probe on a mission to take out spy satellites. It could also be used to retrieve old American military satellites, or bring new spy satellites into orbit.
Boeing, who built the space plane, says that the craft is launched into space on a rocket but comes back to earth and lands much like the Space Shuttle did. The vehicle operates in low-earth orbit, between 110 and 500 miles above earth.
NASA has revealed that it has a materials experiment aboard, and the plane is propelled using an exotic propulsion system that uses the pressure of photons from the sun, a technique known as solar sailing. But most of the project’s mission is shrouded in secrecy.
The unmanned aircraft will return to earth later this year at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The DialyMail.com reports that secrecy experts believe that the drone is likely to be used to test technologies that will increase spying capabilities of the US.
Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists, said “The United States government has a bottomless appetite for sensitive information. As powerful as our intelligence satellites may be, they also have their limitations – most notably the limitations imposed by their orbital parameters. It’s conceivable that a spy plane would introduce new versatility into overhead reconnaissance.”
As with many other military craft, the primary mission may evolve into multiple missions as new capabilities of the craft are developed.
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