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Iran Press TV

Air Force's secret space drone still in orbit a year later

Iran Press TV

Thu Dec 12, 2013 4:51PM GMT

One year after its launch into orbit, the US Air Force's secret space drone continues to circle the Earth as the goal of its mission and its payload remain a mystery.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, which resembles a small unmanned version of the space shuttle (one forth in size), was blasted into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on December 11, 2012.

Air Force officials have offered few details about the mission since its launch, saying that the space plane is merely a way to test new technologies in space, such as satellite sensors and other components.

The drone was originally scheduled to land on a 15,000-foot airstrip at Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara but Air Force officials have never reported its landing.

The classified X-37B program started more than a decade ago to test new technologies for the space shuttle. But when the government ended the space shuttles program, the Pentagon took over the program and shrouded it in secrecy.

Two X-37B vehicles were built by Boeing Government Space Systems in Huntington Beach with some components coming from Boeing's satellite-making plant in El Segundo.

The spacecraft is 29 feet long and has a wingspan of 15 feet. Its unfolding panels draw solar power as its source of energy. Traveling in low-Earth orbit, the space plane operates from 110 miles (177 kilometers) to 500 miles (805 km) in altitude.

Some industry analysts have predicted the secret spacecraft would be a precursor to an orbiting weapon, capable of dropping bombs or disabling foreign satellites as it circles the globe.

"It's obvious the Air Force is finding some value there," Brian Weeden, a former Air Force officer and expert in space security at the Secure World Foundation, said. "Otherwise, they wouldn't keep sending vehicles up."

Some details of the program might come to light during the National Space Club's 57th Annual Robert H. Goddard Memorial Dinner, to be held next March in Washington, D.C, where Major Joshua Chumley, USAF, Commander, Operating Location Alpha, 3d Space Experimentation Squadron, US Air Force Space Command is set to receive the General Bernard Schriever Award, Space.com reported.

Chumley is on tap to pick up the prestigious award 'for leading a selectively manned team responsible for operation of the United States' first unmanned, autonomous, reusable space plane - the Orbital Test Vehicle, or X-37B,' according to a National Space Club press release.


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