August 26, 2010
You may have read about the X-37B, the U.S. Air Force’s new unmanned orbital spaceplane, in our January issue. The secretive satellite with space-shuttlesque delta wings made its first launch on April 22 of this year atop an Atlas V rocket, and has been in orbit since, visible on the web via a number of satellite tracker apps such as this one.
That is, until July 29, when the spaceplane mysteriously disappeared. It took two weeks of cat-and-mouse before amateur astronomers got a fix on it again, roughly 19 miles higher and traveling in a different orbital plane. Looks like the little satellite is living up to its predicted versatility, and its shady reputation. The Air Force has disclosed that the X-37 can stay in space for up to nine months, at which point it will return like the space shuttle and glide to a pinpoint landing at Vandenberg or Edwards Air Force Bases in California.
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