Regardless, that won’t stop the conspiracy theories about the Air Force mystery shuttle. Part of the reason that it’s so mysterious is because we honestly don’t know much about it.
“Measuring 29-feet-long by nine and a half-feet-tall, the X-37B boasts a 15-foot-wingspan and a cargo hold roughly the same size as the bed of a pickup truck. Built by Boeing, the robotic space planes are designed to launch atop a rocket like the Atlas V, orbit, and then re-enter and land in much the same way that NASA’s space shuttle did.”
This time the Air Force X-37B launch is intended to test a new propulsion system call the Hall thruster, and it also has a materials investigation system built by NASA which will check out how 100 different materials handle space over the long term. The rocket will also release tiny satellites used in science experiments.
Not everyone thinks the U.S. Air Force mystery shuttle is simply about space exploration. The overall mission is still kept a secret, and Florida Tech Professor Dr. Richard Ford believes the X-37B is also a space fighter plane that can also be used to spy on enemies of the United States.
“We’re also going to start seeing more conflict potentially in space where you look at people trying to deny access to that fifth domain, and so having the ability to conduct missions and be maneuverable is very important,” Ford said, according to News 13.
While U.S. spy satellites are commonly used to keep tabs on global hot spots like Russia or Iran, it has been suggested in the past that a X-37B spy plane could potentially shift its position to a particular region faster than any spy plane.
“X-37B is probably carrying prototype reconnaissance gear, for spying on the Middle East and other sensitive geopolitical regions,” claimed ExtremeTech.com.
Besides the idea of a X-37B fighter plane, there is the potential for the Air Force mystery shuttle to be the very first space bomber. But Popular Mechanics dumped water on both of those conspiracy theories by noting that fuel requirements are highly restrictive.
“Changing a spacecraft’s orbital plane requires a great amount of thrust — so using something like the X-37B as a bomber would mean changing its orbit to fly over targets, and that would eat up its limited fuel supply,” said University of Maryland professor Mark Lewis, a former Air Force chief scientist.
But, wait! Doesn’t the addition of the ion propulsion system mean that conspiracy theorists do have reason to scramble for their tinfoil hats? As NASA has already pointed out in the past, ion thrusters are better than chemical propulsion systems when it comes maximum velocity over the long term, but not for high acceleration maneuvers.
“Ion propulsion is not of value for missions that require high acceleration, and it often will not be worthwhile for missions that can be done quickly using conventional propulsion systems (such as missions to the moon). But for a wide variety of missions with high energy requirements (such as missions to asteroids and comets, Mercury and the inner solar system, and some to the outer solar system), the low but steady acceleration of ion propulsion wins out over the less efficient bursts from chemical alternatives…. Under the circumstances for which ion propulsion is appropriate, it can push a spacecraft up to about ten times as fast as chemical propulsion. Because the ion propulsion system, although highly efficient, is very gentle in its thrust, it cannot be used for any application in which a rapid acceleration is required.”
Never mind, if the Air Force mystery shuttle decided to all James Bond then this would hardly be a clandestine mission.
“It would be very easy to trace that sort of activity back to the U.S. government since governments and amateurs alike can easily track the X-37B,” the Daily Beast noted.
Do you think the Air Force mystery shuttle is setting the stage for a future space fighter plane? What do you think about the Air Force X-37B launch?
[Image via Wikimedia]