Top-secret U.S. space plane about to leave Earth for years

The Space Force will soon launch its X-37B spacecraft on a classified mission.

Top-secret U.S. space plane about to leave Earth for years

The U.S. Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at NASA 's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida May 7, 2017.

Credit: U.S. Air Force
  • The U.S. Air Force is preparing to launch its X-37B space drone made by Boeing.
  • The spacecraft is like a mini-space shuttle and is used to test technologies.
  • X-37B's missions are highly classified, leading to speculation about their purpose.

The U.S. Space Force is about to launch the sixth mission of the secretive X-37B space plane. Where will the plane go and what will it do? Specific details about the robotic spacecraft and its missions are highly classified by the United States government, fueling speculation and conspiracies. The new mission is expected to see the plane away from Earth for at least two years.

The last mission of the X-37B had the plane away from our planet for a total of 780 days, from Sept. 7, 2017 until October 27, 2019. That flight broke the record for the longest amount of time in space by a spacecraft.

The reusable plane shares some similarities with the Space Shuttle, although being much smaller at 29 feet long, and is also made by Boeing. Its new flight, dubbed mission OTV-6 (with "OTV" standing in for "Orbital Test Vehicle") will supposedly have the mini-shuttle testing out new technologies, as reports The National Interest. In reality, its purpose is likely geared more specifically towards space weaponry. Much like its global counterparts Russia and China, the United States is working on a new generation of military technology for space. The Air Force tends to not disclose the X37B's payloads, leading experts to conjecture that it may be carrying sensors, spy satellites or even munitions. The Air Force certainly denies such allegations, saying the X-37B never carries weapons, which would be a violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

The unmanned X-37B is scheduled to launch into low-Earth orbit on May 16, 2020. It will ride atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The last time the space drone was launched it was carried by the Falcon 9 made by Elon Musk's SpaceX. The official goal of that mission was test "experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipes in the long duration space environment."

Boeing X-37B Space Plane - What You Need To Know

The space plane's first mission took place in 2010. Subsequent missions have seen seen it stay out longer and longer. Once in orbit, it gets the power from solar panels for its on-board systems. The vehicle's thrusters for maneuvering run on liquid fuel. Whenever the landing of the X-37B takes place, it will do so on its own, like an airplane.

The Air Force actually has two such spacecraft. They take turns going to space and getting refurbished.

First U.S. Space Force mission started with the launch of Atlas 5 rocket - 3/26/2020

How New York's largest hospital system is predicting COVID-19 spikes

Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.

Credit: Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
  • Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

3,000-pound Triceratops skull unearthed in South Dakota

"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.

Excavation of a triceratops skull in South Dakota.

Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
Surprising Science
  • The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
  • It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
  • Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Keep reading Show less

Dark matter axions possibly found near Magnificent 7 neutron stars

A new study proposes mysterious axions may be found in X-rays coming from a cluster of neutron stars.

A rendering of the XMM-Newton (X-ray multi-mirror mission) space telescope.

Credit: D. Ducros; ESA/XMM-Newton, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Surprising Science
  • A study led by Berkeley Lab suggests axions may be present near neutron stars known as the Magnificent Seven.
  • The axions, theorized fundamental particles, could be found in the high-energy X-rays emitted from the stars.
  • Axions have yet to be observed directly and may be responsible for the elusive dark matter.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Put on a happy face? “Deep acting” associated with improved work life

    New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life — you have to feel it.

    Credit: Columbia Pictures
    Personal Growth
  • Deep acting is the work strategy of regulating your emotions to match a desired state.
  • New research suggests that deep acting reduces fatigue, improves trust, and advances goal progress over other regulation strategies.
  • Further research suggests learning to attune our emotions for deep acting is a beneficial work-life strategy.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Surprising Science

    World's oldest work of art found in a hidden Indonesian valley

    Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast