This site is reader-supported. When you click through links on our site, we may be compensated.
You may have heard of the Air Force's secretive space plane.
It's [INAUDIBLE] aircraft that's really shrouded in mystery.
We don't know a ton about it but it recently launched on it's latest mission, so I thought this would be a good time to talk about what we do know and what's doing right now.
[MUSIC] Let's start with the basics.
It's known as the X-37B orbital test vehicle, or Toby T. Do a little googling and you'll see it's referred to a lot of different ways.
Space plane, drone robotic vehicle.
Looks like the shuttles that NASA retired in 2011 though the X-37B is one fourth the size It's built by Boeing Phantom Works division and designed to operate in low Earth orbit, that's between 150 to 500 miles above the surface of the earth.
And much like the space shuttle, it's reusable designed to return to earth when the mission is over.
Now the X37B is built to be carried into space on the Air Force's Atlas five rockets, though on one of its missions it did, he ride on a SpaceX Falcon9 So let's talk history.
This started as a NASA program in 1999.
But it was transferred to the US military in 2004 and ultimately became part of the new US space force.
And this is where the mystery comes in.
[MUSIC] Since the military took over The Air Force hasn't given us much detail about what the plane is doing up there.
Except running experiments.
We know there are two of them that is so far launched at least six missions, starting with OTV1 in April of 2010.
That mission lasted 224 days and they got progressively longer from there.
Following OTV four we did get a little bit of insight.
The Air Force of the spacecraft had been testing advanced technology including guidance, navigation and propulsion systems.
The last mission OTV five lasts at a record 780 days.
Before the craft returned to Earth in October of last year, we know that also had several experiments, including one for the Air Force involving, quote, experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies.
Now that brings us to OTV six.
Ignition and liftoff of United Launch Alliance Atlas five rocket with USS F7 for the United States space force on a mission dedicated to America strong.
On Sunday, the X 37 be blasted off on board the Atlas five from Cape Canaveral.
Among other things it carried a tribute to victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But we do know a few more details this time around.
The Spacebar says OTV-6 is carrying more experiments than any previous mission.
That's thanks to a new service module attached to the bottom of the plane.
Among them, two NASA experiments that will look at the effects of radiation in space on seeds and other materials.
There's a Falcon eight satellite that was developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy But probably most interesting, is an experiment for the naval research laboratory.
It's called the photo vytalic radio frequency antenna module, or PRAM.
The goal here is to capture solar power and beam it back to earth.
It essentially uses a solar panel on top, then converts the sunlight into a microwave beam.
The idea would be that a receiver could capture that energy back on Earth.
It's not clear how long this mission will last.
But if history repeats itself, we can expect it to be at least a couple of years.
Now there's a lot of speculation that the primary purpose of this plane has more to do with actual military weapons.
And most experts agree that's not too likely.
They say it's too small and it doesn't maneuver well enough.
Others have suggested it's being used to test these spy satellite technologies.
Now, officially, the Air Force says there are two primary objectives for the X-37B reusable spacecraft technology for America's future in space And operating experiments which can be returned to and examined on Earth.
Now, obviously, we can't expect that they're going to tell us everything.
And I do realize this is going to invite a lot of conspiracy theories, but I want to know what you think.
What do you think is the primary purpose of the x 37 b?
Is it simply running experiments Is it something more?
Let us know in the comments below.