A year ago the Air Force launched its second unmanned drone that is completely automated into space. It was never clear exactly what the drone was for, but the military said that the space shuttle X-37B was to test new technologies in space. Whatever those technologies are, no one is sure.
The space shuttle was launched from Cape Canaveral, FL, March 5, 2011. It was originally schedule to land 270 days later in November, but the Air Force extended the date and as of yet has not announced a new landing date.
Even though the Pentagon has said on more than one occasion that the shuttle is simply for testing technologies, some analysts believe this could be the beginning for weapons capable of orbiting the planet and “dropping bombs or disabling satellites.”
This one and the first X-37B were built in extreme secrecy by Boeing Co.’s Space and Intelligence Systems in Huntington Beach. Engineering was completed at Huntington and Seal Beach while other services were completed at El Segundo. It is rumored that a third X-37B will be launched later this year.
Air Force Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre said, “Upon completion of all objectives, we look forward to bringing the mission to a safe, successful conclusion. The next program phase, the next X-37B mission, has been tentatively planned for the fall of 2012.”
McIntyre also commented a little on the purpose of these shuttles, “The X-37B program is setting the standard for a reusable space plane, and on this one-year orbital milestone, has returned great value on the experimental investment.”
The X-37B program was initially a NASA program but after a lack of funding was released to the Defense Advanced Research Agency in 2004. The Air Force took over in 2006.
Ted Molczan, a Toronto, Canada-based satellite watcher and spacecraft analyst, has an idea of what the shuttles could be used for:
“I do not know OTV-2’s mission, but it’s frequently repeating ground track may be a clue that it is gathering imagery intelligence. Ground tracks that repeat at intervals of two, three or four days have long been favored for U.S. imagery intelligence satellites, because they enable frequent monitoring of targets of interest.”