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Home / Science / America's mysterious X37B spacecraft discovered by an amateur sky watcher in orbit – before it disappeared out of sight

America's mysterious X37B spacecraft discovered by an amateur sky watcher in orbit – before it disappeared out of sight



A SKYWATCHER has cast a rare glance at a secret US Air Force spacecraft.

The mysterious X-37B aircraft conducts intelligence operations in Earth orbit and was arrested by an astrophotographer in the US Air Force in front of the camera.

   A space photographer has taken blurred shots of the spacecraft X37B

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A space photographer has taken blurred shots of the spacecraft X37B Credit: Ralf Vandebergh

Ralf Vandebergh, The Aviation Journalist and amateur space photographer told LiveScience that he had been hunting the robot spaceship for months.

And in May he finally managed to find it – but he could not take any pictures of it. Then it disappeared frustratingly.

"When I tried to re-watch it in mid-June, it did not live up to the predicted time and path," explained Ralf.

"It turned out to be in a different orbit."

   The ship was built by Boeing and started as a NASA project before being handed over to the military.

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The ship is built by Boeing and started as a NASA project before being handed over to the military Credit: Alamy

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However, he managed to get some photos: "Thanks to the network of amateur satellite observers, it was quickly found back in orbit and I was able to take some pictures on June 30 and July 2."

The X-37B military spacecraft was launched as a NASA project in 1999 handed over to the US Department of Defense just five years later.

It operates in a low-earth orbit area, but the nature of its missions remains a mystery.

In 2012, it was speculated that the US used it to spy on China's Tiangong-1 space station module.

However, this was subsequently rejected by the US Air Force, as the orbits of both spacecraft did not allow for convenient surveillance flights.

It has also been rumored that the US is using the spacecraft to test spy sensors and investigate how they behave against radiation and other space threats.

And despite the advanced technology on board, the aircraft is tiny – and therefore difficult to photograph.

"It's really a small object, even in just 300 kilometers," said Ralf.

"So do not expect the detail accuracy of ground images of the real space shuttle."

   The X37B pictured here on a runway during post-landing operations in December 2010

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The X37B pictured here on a runway during operations after landing in December 2010 Credit: Corbis – Getty
   The vehicle is the most advanced unmanned aircraft in the US. Entry Spacecraft

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The ship is the most advanced of the US d re-entry spacecraft Credit: Corbis – Getty
   The more detailed missions of the X37B remain a closely guarded secret

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The more detailed missions of the X37B remain a closely guarded secret Credit: Handout

USA X37B Missions – When did the secret operations take place?

Here is the complete list …

  • OTV-1 – Launched on April 22, 2010 (runtime: 224 days) and 9 hours)
  • OTV-2 – launched on March 4, 2011 (Duration: 468 days and 14 hours)
  • OTV-3 – launched on December 11, 2012 (duration: 674 days and 22 hours) [19659040] OTV-4 – launched on May 20, 2015 (duration: 717 days and 20 hours)
  • OTV-5 (ongoing) – launched on September 7, 2017 (duration: 668 days and 13 hours)

With the help of design details Ralf could identify the vehicle.

"We can see a portion of the nose, payload bay and stern of this mini-shuttle, even with a hint of a smaller De Heck," he said.

The elusive vehicle has performed five missions so far: the latest is the US-277, which will begin in September 2017 with a maximum takeoff weight of 11,000 lb.

It shoots around the earth in a low orbit at 17,426 miles per hour, and it takes about 270 days to orbit the Earth.

And there is not a single crew member on board: the vehicle is fully on-board robot based on computer systems for navigation and operation.

We expect a sixth mission for X-37B to begin later this year, though it is not clear when.

US marines test new lasers from Boeing, which may explode enemy drones from the sky

In other news about space secrets, scientists have recently discovered that a strange space object called Oumuamua is not likely to be an alien probe. 19659002] And perhaps there was a breakthrough in the search for extraterrestrial life as scientists pinpointed the exact location of the mysterious rapid burst of radio that "could be signaled by ET".

Are you tempted to become an amateur astrophotographer now? Let us know in the comments!


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