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US military spaceplane blasts off

THE US AIR FORCE’S top-secret prototype unmanned spaceplane, the X-37B, has blasted into orbit.

This is the second flight for the system. The first vehicle, OTV-1, spent several months in orbit last year. The new flight is being conducted by OTV-2, a twin of OTV-1.

No one outside secret military circles knows for sure what the purpose of the X-37B is. The US military says simply that it is designed to test technologies for a reusable spaceplane that might be fielded in the future.

Speculation amongst those outside military circles, is that the system is designed as conduct spying or reconnaissance missions. It has even been suggested that the X-37B could be used to launch small satellites, repair US military satellites, or carry weapons that could destroy hostile satellites.

A publicity shot of the X-37B military spaceplane.

A publicity shot of the X-37B military spaceplane.

Amateur satellite trackers followed the course of the OTV-1 flight last year, and concluded that it was in an orbit typical for that of a reconnaissance satellite.

In a move that surprised many, during OTV-1’s flight, mission controllers changed the vehicle’s orbit and the amateur trackers lost touch with it for a while. But eventually, scanning the skies, they picked it up again.

No doubt those same satellite trackers will be keeping an eagle on the flight of X-37B OTV-2.

Story copyright Jonathan Nally, Images and vision courtesy USAF.

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