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Top-secret space plane lands on California coast


Free Spirit
Staff member
The plane spent nearly two years circling Earth on a classified mission. Known as the X-37B, it resembles a mini space shuttle.

Top-secret space plane lands on California coast - Yahoo News
I wonder what its mission was and why it was up so long? There are rumors ranging from carrying a payload of spy gear to capturing other countries satellites. Since this belongs to the Air force I guess there could be something to that.



Registered Member
Well capturing satellites would be very difficult and risky. In low Earth orbits they fly anywhere from 160 km (99 miles) to 2,000 km (1,200 miles) above sea level and thats where most satellites and labs are. They also fly at amazing speeds. For example the International Space Station orbits at 27,756 km/hr (17,247.6 miles/hr).

And the X-37B space plane is only 9 1/2 feet tall and 29 feet long so it couldnt carry a very large payload. Any important satellite will be abut the size of a bus.
Also satellites can be interfered with from ground-based stations - they wouldnt need a space plane for that.

Since the mission started in 2012 then Im thinking it could be doing research for the hypersonic weapons project. With all the advanced anti-missile systems (including the new S-500 in Russia) the US and Russia have been trying to develop missiles that can beat them.
S-500 Anti-Missile System

One method thats already been developed and deployed is the Iskander missile systems. They can detect anti-missile launches, change course, and return to the original trajectory heading when the threat ends.
But Iskander missile systems are very expensive to build and to maintain so now theres a new arms race for hypersonic weapons. Those can fly so fast that anti-missile systems dont have time to respond.

So far neither the US or Russia has had much luck designing a successful hypersonic weapon.
The Army’s experimental hypersonic missile just exploded four seconds after takeoff - The Washington Post

Hypersonic weapons could have a better chance if they were launched from space.. just saying.


Capturing other countries satellites sounds a bit far out since that would be an "International Incident". The likely uses for a mini-space shuttle would be carrying light payloads, transporting astronauts to/from the ISS or other orbital craft, and launching mini-satellites. NASA has made great strides in reducing the mass of satellites in recent years. I've not seen this thing yet, but the presence of bay doors, like those of the old space shuttles, would suggest it's use as a satellite launching craft.

- Chameleon


Registered Member
I think the bay doors are probaly more about storing and setting up the solar array. Since its only 29 feet long (about the same size as the den in our house) and since it already has to store the solar panels then I seriously doubt theres enough room for even a small satellite.
Also no way it would take more than a year to launch one.

And dont forget it was a top secret military-related mission.
Dunno that its all about research for developing hypersonic weapons but that is a top priority for the military right now.

And about the reductions in size for satellites - Has anyone been watching the Delta rocket launches that are putting the WGS (Wideband Global SATCOM) series of communications satellites in orbit? Those satellites are as large as buses and they weigh 6.6 US tons each. No way they would fit in the bay of that space plane and only the Delta rockets are needed to deliver them into space.
Air Force Ready for Big Launch from Florida Thursday | Rocket Launches & Military Satellites | Military Space Missions
Pentagon May Defer Launches of 2 Wideband Communications Satellites | SpaceNews.com
ULA Delta IV launches with WGS-6 satellite | NASASpaceFlight.com

The last article has most of the information about the size of those satellites.
I still think it has to be research... top secret research.