For over 700 days, a mysterious spacecraft has been orbiting the Earth, and yet no one other than the U.S. Air Force knows why.
So what exactly is going on here? First, some background from IFL Science:
“This is the fifth mission of the X-37B space plane, an uncrewed and solar-powered military drone. The Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5) mission launched way back on September 7, 2017, with the help of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
“On the fourth mission – Orbital Test Vehicle 4 (OTV-4) – it remained in orbit for 717 days, 20 hours, and 42 minutes, which it has now surpassed, with no details yet on when the mission may end.”
Here’s what we do know about this mysterious spacecraft:
- It’s known as a “space plane”
- It’s similar to NASA’s space shuttles
In the absence of hard facts, speculation, conjecture, and conspiracy theories have sprung up around the spacecraft. Those include:
- The government is launching spy satellites
- The military is testing what’s known as an EmDrive.
What’s an EmDrive?
An EmDrive is defined as an engine that:
“Generates thrust by bouncing microwaves around inside a conical chamber. Because the engine doesn’t require any fuel, it could theoretically make spaceflight far cheaper and more efficient, opening the heavens to exploration.”
There is, however, one tiny problem with the idea of an EmDrive: Under the laws of physics, it shouldn’t work, according to Space.com:
“The engine doesn’t blast anything out a nozzle, so Newton’s Third Law of Motion — for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction — doesn’t come into play. Nobody really understands how the claimed thrust could actually be generated.”
So what gives? It can’t be a spacecraft testing an EmDrive, it doesn’t seem to be a conventional craft like NASA would use, and it’s under the direction of the U.S. Air Force. Something is going on, but the questions outweigh the facts.
The top theory currently floating around the internet is that the spacecraft is actually a spy plane, according to Spaceflight magazine:
“‘Space-to-space surveillance is a whole new ball game made possible by a finessed group of sensors and sensor suites, which we think the X-37B may be using to maintain a close watch on China’s nascent space station,’ Spaceflight Editor Dr. David Baker told BBC News back in 2012, though this too was deemed unlikely based on the ship’s orbital path.”
To clear up the confusion, the logical place to seek answers would be from the Air Force itself, but they were tight-lipped with any information, releasing a statement that seems to raise more suspicion than resolution:
“The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the US Air Force.
“The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold; reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.
“Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high-temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing.”
Did you get all that? Sounds like the Air Force wants to bore us all into a state of stupor so we’ll stop asking questions.