A re-usable, U.S. Air Force unmanned space plane, the X-37B, is ending a more than yearlong secret mission circling the planet, in the coming days.
The X-37B, that ironically looks a lot like that of the now-retired space shuttles, only much smaller, has been on its second secret mission since March of last year, with the Air Force saying it will return to earth at undisclosed location in an early to mid June timeframe.
Also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle-2, or OTV-2, the X-37B is about 29 feet long by 15 feet wide, with a payload bay the size of a pickup truck bed which contains solar arrays to power it.
The OTV-1 had been launched in early 2010 and stayed in orbit for 225 days before returning under its estimated 270-day orbiting capability. The OTV-2 has currently been in orbit for 462 days.
Without disclosing to many details of what the X-37B, space plane mission has been for, Air Force officials have said that the vehicle’s chief task is testing out new technologies for future satellites.
Others think it may be being used as a spy tool. Brian Weeden, a technical adviser with the Secure World Foundation and a former orbital analyst with the Air Force says, the space plane may be observing the Middle East and Afghanistan with some brand-new spy gear.
Weeden says that the OTV-2 may also be orbiting for so long, so that the Air Force can push the limits and see just what it can handle.
Some theorists believe when the OTV-2 returns to the ground it will most likely be at either California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, or Edwards Air Force Base.