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US military's secretive X-37b space plane spotted in high orbit

By T.K. Randall
February 11, 2024 · Comment icon 4 comments

What is the X-37b up to this time ? Image Credit: United States Air Force
The details of the vehicle's latest mission are top secret, but that hasn't stopped an amateur astronomer from locating it.
Resembling a miniature version of NASA's now-retired space shuttles, this pint-sized robotic space plane was passed over to the US Department of Defense back in 2004 and has since embarked on a series of secretive orbital missions, sometimes spending over two years at a time in space.

It's most recent mission saw the X-37b launch into the heavens atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy back on December 28th, prompting speculation that it may have been heading for a higher altitude than usual.

Now, less than two months after the launch, Tomi Simola - a satellite tracking hobbyist from Finland - believes he has actually spotted the secretive space vehicle using a sky-watching camera.

Posting both on social media and on a long-running satellite tracking forum, he revealed two photographs that his camera had picked up showing an unknown object in Earth's orbit.
His suspicions that this could have been the X-37b were later confirmed by others in the community.

"Exciting news!" he wrote. "Orbital Test Vehicle 7 (OTV-7), which was launched to classified orbit last December, was seen by my SatCam! Here are images from the last two nights!"

His findings suggest that the vehicle is in a highly elliptical orbit between 201 and 24,133 miles.

Exactly what it is doing up there, however, remains as much of a mystery as ever.

Source: Ars Technica | Comments (4)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by pallidin 19 days ago
I've often wondered what types of experiments/activities are being performed there. Presumably those which involve gravity variance, classified orbital imaging technologies, long-term irradiation studies  etc, but those are just speculations... I would have no idea beyond obvious generalities. Wonder if clues have "slipped out" throughout the years and maybe even someone here knows, in part. Would be interesting.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 19 days ago
I don't think many clues have slipped out for the classified experiments, however a lot of experts have speculated that long term exposure to space is a major factor. There are additional costs incurred in returning experiments to Earth and, unless you want to analyse the payloadsback on Earth, it would be simpler and cheaper to use a satellite and simply allow it to reenter and burn up at the end of the mission. I personally think that your speculation about long term radiation exposure is a good guess for at least some of the payloads. The USAF has also hinted that the vehicle itself is part... [More]
Comment icon #3 Posted by and-then 19 days ago
I've wondered if the vehicle has a potential anti-sat mission as well.  It seems like with solar power, it could maneuver and take out multiple targets.  
Comment icon #4 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 18 days ago
What has solar power got to do with it? That provides the electrical power not the propulsion. Propulsion is conventional rocket power  If it has an anti-satellite role then why onl one in orbit at any given time. Why long periods of time when neither of the vehicles are in orbit? It simply doesn't make sense as a weapon. 

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