Reg comments76

America's mystery X-37B space drone lands after two years in orbit

Mysterious craft likely to be surveillance testbed

Touchdown ... The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (Source: US Air Force)

Pic The US Air Force’s mysterious X-37B space drone has landed – a mere two years after it took off.

The unmanned craft landed on the old Space Shuttle runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Sunday.

The Boeing aircraft left this earthly realm in 2015, strapped to an Atlas 5 rocket that was launched from Cape Canaveral. Pictures of the beast, which can be seen via the various links in this article, show a rather weird blend of a Space Shuttle fuselage and wingform with an MQ-9 Reaper-style dihedral twin tailfin arrangement.

Officially the X-37 carries out heavily classified “equipment tests”. In reality it is almost certainly an autonomous surveillance drone, as the Guardian laconically speculated back in 2014.

Its payload bay measures seven feet by four feet. Space.com’s profile of the craft reckons it is designed to operate at altitudes of between 110 and 150 miles above the Earth’s surface.

Originally conceived as a joint NASA/Department of Defense project, the X-37 is now a solely DoD venture. It seems likely that the spacecraft is used for testing new surveillance equipment in the harsh environment of orbital space.

Given the relatively small size of its payload bay, it is unlikely that it carries any weapons, not even James Bond-style gear for projecting giant lasers, zapping Soviet Chinese Russian satellites or swallowing them whole. ®

Sign up to our Newsletter

Get IT in your inbox daily

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2017