When the US military launched the robotic X-37B space plane on 20 May 2015, a lot of eyebrows were raised since it was classified as its fourth top secret mission into Earth’s orbit.
And with each passing day the suspicion grows, as it has been now more than 500 days that this solar-powered, unmanned drone has been hovering around with no word on the intentions or longevity of its mission leading to a host of conspiracy theories.
Theories ranging from deployment of spy satellites into Earth’s atmosphere to interception and interference of its signals are being presented. Some even think that this is part of the Pentagon’s drone-based weaponry research, or maybe spying on China’s ill-fated space station.
Nothing is sure for now, but we do know that during its 500 days in orbit the satellite has been carrying several payloads. It has carried a couple of prototypes electric propulsion devices which were aimed at Air Force and private aerospace and defence company Aerojet Rocketdyne. We also know that the mission has been working in collaboration with NASA’s advanced materials investigation, helping it to test environmental effects on certain materials.
Winston Beauchamp, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for Space said: “It remains a very useful way to test out things.”
In response to the Air Force’s first of called the OTV-4 mission (or Orbital Test Vehicle-4) – launched in April 2010, an article published in the New York Times reported, “In interviews and statements, Pentagon leaders strongly denied that the winged plane had anything to do with space weapons, even while conceding that its ultimate goal was to aid terrestrial war fighters with a variety of ancillary missions.”
The Air Force responded very obscurely, adding fuel to the fire of speculations. They said that the secret mission has “no offensive capabilities,” and “The program supports technology risk reduction, experimentation, and operational concept development.”
The second OTV-4 mission was launched on 5 March 2011 and went on for 468 days the in orbit. The third mission was launched using X-37B robot and spent nearly 675 days in orbit. And what we have seen up till now, this current mission could last even longer up there.
The Air Force claims that they are trying to build on the prolonged solar-powered flight capabilities of the satellite, and have also stated that the first three OTV-4 missions were also used to demonstrate its reusable flight, reentry, and landing technologies.
But until any concrete evidence is presented, all of this is mere speculation. Only time and maybe some Wikileaks esque whistleblowing could ever reveal what these missions are up to!
Do you have any personal “theories” on the potential mission of the satellite? Let us know in the comments’ section below!