The top-secret space project – that doesn’t seem to be very top-secret – dubbed X-37B is returning to Earth after an astonishing two years in space. Later today, the craft is set to land at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California according to Space.com.
Though the public seems to know just about everything there is to know concerning X-37B, the one thing that no one seems to know is what its objective is. Exactly, what did it accomplish over the last two years?
As of yesterday, the X-37B has been in spaced for 672 days, which shatters previous records for consecutive days in space for a similar craft. Such a long time in space is feasible for the X-37B due to it being completely robotic and self-flying. The lack of human involvement persists even to the landing of the plane as the robotics on board are able to complete the task on their own.
This is the third mission for the X-37B. It left Earth on December 11th, 2012 aboard an Atlas 5 rocket. This mission for the X-37B has far exceeded the total time in space compared with the previous two. The first X-37B mission, launched in April of 2010, lasted a total of 225 days. The second mission, launched March 2011, orbited the earth for a total of 469 days. This latest mission has now lasted three times the amount of time in space compared with the original mission.
So, what is the mission? The Air Force refuses to disclose that information, and there are no indicators that they intend to in the near future. According to experts, the mission likely holds some sort of military significance. Clearly, however, it must have something to do with extended periods of time in space…
On the other hand, if one just wants to orbit the Earth for a few years, we have satellites for that. Why would a craft need to return to Earth after being in orbit for an extended period of time?
According to Space Flight Now, some analysts have speculated that the winged spaceship could be testing next-generation surveillance, communications and intelligence-gathering instruments. The X-37B could also be deploying small satellites or demonstrating new materials for use in future military programs.
Surveillance that would require a return to Earth for the unmanned craft? Communications and intelligence gathering that would require a return to Earth? Again, experts argue that we have satellites for such operations that don’t require the expense of returning home. The best guess – and currently anyone’s guess is as good as anyone elses – is that the X-37B is testing some sort of material(s) used in spacecraft design. Perhaps long-term radiation effects on different hull materials are being studied. Bringing the craft back to Earth to study the degradation of the material firsthand would then make sense, wouldn’t it?
Of course, maybe we’re all wrong about the X-37B. Maybe the top-secret craft is collecting space dust that was recently discovered to make worm-hole travel across space and time feasible in large enough quantities.
Then again, maybe that’s just the science fiction writer in me thinking out loud.
What do you think the X-37B is doing up in orbit for two years at a time?
image via StandUpAmericaus