The US sent a special spacecraft X-37B flying into the Earth’s orbit. It was its fourth flight but the military remains tight-lipped.
More than a year has lapsed and to date, the solar-powered spacecraft is still flying on its own in the earth’s orbit. The public remains clueless as to what it’s doing up there and when it’s due to return home. This has evoked speculative thinking that the spacecraft could be part of a conspiracy that has begun many years ago.
Could this unmanned spacecraft be spying on China and its alleged crumbling space station? Does it carry equipment designed in aid of weapons research or espionage?
No one knows for sure. What is known at this point is that it has been in orbit for more than a year now and it is equipped with payloads.
According to some sources, a handful of these payloads includes spacecraft propulsion devices owned separately by the USAF and private aerospace firm, Aerojet Rocketdyne. Some are NASA-owned collateral used to assess the effect of space environment on select materials.
Air Force for Space Deputy USec Winston Beauchamp said that launching vehicle-carrying payloads into outer space is an effective procedure for materials testing. He disclosed this a month ago at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) conference held in Long Beach, California.
The first of the string of “secret” missions dubbed as Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) began in 2010. The moment X-37B spacecraft was launched into outer space, the public started to speculate. It journeyed back to earth after more than 200 days in orbit.
In the same year, a leading U.S. daily disclosed that Pentagon denied rumors about the spacecraft being utilized to help in develop space weapons. Ironically, though, the same people admitted that the objective is to help terrestrial combat fighters.
During an interview, USAF representatives issued a general statement, revealing that the mission is not offensive in nature. It is solely for technology risk reduction, exploration, and CONOPS development.
By 2011, the second OTV mission was launched. This time, X-37B stayed in orbit for more than 400 days before returning to earth. This was followed by a third OTV launch in 2012 where X-37B orbited the earth for more than 600 days prior to returning to its return.
Some observers note that despite the U.S. government’s tight-lipped stance on these missions, the public is made aware of U.S.’ capabilities in conducting unmanned space flights via solar power.
Truths or half-truths, on the day China’s space station crumbles, the U.S. might be able to tell when to duck and cover.