The X-37B "top secret space plane" has had space, military, and conspiracy theory enthusiasts speculating about its purpose since the mysterious apparatus first took to the skies, and that speculation has only increased while the X-37B has continually orbited the Earth for the last two or so years. Looking like a miniature version of the space shuttle, those not in the know - which is pretty much everybody - can only guess at what secrets the X-37B holds.
The X-37B concluded its most recent journey Friday morning, reacquainting with terra firma at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the Southern California coast, according to the Associated Press. The X-37B, which is unmanned, presumably with only robotics running things on board, spent its almost two years in space, 674 days to be exact, executing a secret mission.
Some speculations, including those of experts, believe the X-37B's cargo includes spying equipment. Other theories are that the X-37B might actually be equipped to capture satellites and or other space machines from other countries and/or to keep an eye on China's space station.
While one defense official did talk about X-37B, saying future missions would focus on extending the spaceplane's technical capabilities and time in orbit, that's about all he would divulge. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official declined to talk about any cargo or equipment inside X-B37, or its exact purpose, according to news.com.au.
"The specific parameters are unreleasable," said the official.
Which, again, leaves nothing but room to speculate. Some analysts are saying the X-37B could very well be for spying from space and gathering information from the satellites of other countries.
While officials won't say what the X-37B's exact purpose is, they have said what it's not. Specifically, officials have shot down any notions that X-37B is part of a "space weapon" project aimed to develop the ability to blow other satellites out of the sky.
One more small hint of what the X-37B is about, given by the Air Force, is that the spaceplane can test technology for "reusable" spacecrafts, and "conduct unspecified experiments that can be studied on Earth."
This was the third mission for X-37B, and its longest. On its first flight in 2010, X-37B was out for about eight months, with its second flight sending X-37B into orbit for over 15 months.
Boeing built X-37B, which weighs in at five tons and is about 29 feet long. The top secret plane's wing span is a modest 15 feet.
And how fast is X-37B? Super fast, with the ability to go 25 times faster than the speed of sound. For takeoff the X-37B piggybacks on a rocket, gliding back to earth once its work is done and landing much like the space shuttle or a plane.
X-37B's next mission, according to Air Force, is set to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, next year.
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