There’s some rather curious events taking place in earth’s orbit right now. Currently, an uncrewed solar-powered space plane has just broken a spaceflight-duration record, it has now been orbiting earth for more than 719 days.
It’s known as the X-37B, it belongs to the US Air Force, and this is its fifth mission as an Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5), however – we’re not really sure what it’s achieving.
Previous test vehicles such as the OTV-4 stayed in orbit for 717 days, 20 hours and 42 minutes. However OTV-5 beat this record on August 26th, and as of September 1st, 2019, it has been in orbit for 723 days and counting.
By now you are probably feeling a little curious. What is going on up there? What is the US Air Force doing with a solar-powered, uncrewed plane for almost two years in orbit.
We’re left with a very general response from the US Air Force, they don’t avoid conversation on the plane, however, they also don’t really give us anything to go on.
What we have discovered is that this plane, X-37B, looks very similar to NASA’s old space shuttle. Their latest mission launched on September 7th 2017 by SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and this mission is still active.
We also know that Boeing built two solar-powered aircraft for the US Air Force, and when this space plane does come down, it will land on a runway using wheels.
While the US Air Force has been very general, they have shared that the X-37B’s primary objectives are to both research reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space, and also it is being used to conduct experiments that can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.
Officials have yet to elaborate more on their orbital experiments. In previous years we’ve speculated that the military may be testing an EM Drive in space. This is a hypothetical fuel-less system that has been studied by NASA. It’s also a technology that China claims is already testing.
There is also always a speculated potential that the Air Force may be using this X-37B ship for research on weapons, although in 2010 the Air Force did deny that this program involved “offensive capabilities”.
It’s in our nature to be curious. Regardless of why this space plane is up there, it was only designed to orbit for 270 days, and we’ve more than doubled that time, so maybe this is just a bug win when it comes to solar powered aircraft.
While there’s plenty to consider when it comes to what’s taking place on the planet, there’s also some pretty interesting things happening in space too.
This one might be worth keeping an eye on.
Mysterious Space Plane Has Now Been Orbiting Earth For 719 Days, And We Don’t Know Why https://www.sciencealert.com/mysterious-space-plane-has-now-been-orbiting-earth-for-719-days-and-we-don-t-know-why
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