June 15, 2012
Secret Military Space Plane Could Be Landing Today
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com
The Air Force is making landing preparations for its super-secret X-37B unmanned space plane at the Vandenberg Air Force Base.
According to various media outlets, Air Force officials said depending on weather conditions, the landing for the unmanned space plane could take place on Friday.
"The men and women of Team Vandenberg are ready to execute safe landing operations anytime and at a moment's notice," Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander, said in a statement on May 30th.
The X-37B has been orbiting the Earth since its launch back on March 5, 2011. The craft originally spent 224 days in space after landing for the first time back on December 3, 2010.
The Air Force has kept its lips sealed as to what exactly the unmanned space plane is actually being used for.
The X-37B looks like a smaller version of one of NASA's space shuttles, but is an unmanned vehicle that is capable of staying in orbit for at least a year.
Some have speculated that the space plane could be a vehicle being used by the Air Force to keep an eye on the Chinese space station Tiangong 1.
"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," the editor of the British Interplanetary Society's magazine Spaceflight Dr David Baker told the BBC in January.
Media reports back in January stated that both the Tiangong 1 space station and the X-37B would migrate towards or against each other about every 170 orbits.
However, despite some reports of the spacecraft being used as a spy plane, others say if the Pentagon wanted to spy on Tiangong-1, it wouldn´t need a multi-million dollar spaceplane.
“Although I can´t talk about mission specifics, suffice it to say this mission has been a spectacular success,” General William L. Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, said in a recent speech.
Vandenberg said the space plane will use its propulsion system to brake from orbit, and head back down through the atmosphere towards the Air Force base.
“Space professionals from the 30th Space Wing will monitor the de-orbit and landing of the Air Force´s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission, called OTV 2,” Vandenberg´s statement said.