If you have never heard of the US Space Force's secret X-37B space plane, then the Space Force has achieved what it set out to do - keeping the planes a secret as much as possible.
Publicly, we know of two space planes that are currently in use by the United States Space Force, however, the missions of these planes have been kept under wraps since they begun flying secret missions in 2010. So far, there have been six Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) missions for X-37B space planes; in April 2010, March 2011, December 2012, May 2015 and September 2017, per Space.com.
While the missions and the plane itself have been kept relatively under wraps, there are some known facts about it. Below I have outlined ten known facts about the space planes.
10 Facts About US's Secret Space Planes:
- The planes are relatively small in size, measuring in at just 29 feet for the X-37B and 48 feet for X-37C. The designs seem to be inspired by NASA's space shuttle.
- All of the missions have remained classified, as well as the technology that is used inside of the space planes. Additionally, the orbital activities of the space planes have remained under wraps, which has let some people to assume that the space planes are actually a weapon.
- All of the missions have two official names the OTV version and "USA" variant. For example, "OTV-1 is also known as USA-212".
- NASA was originally involved in the conception of the X-37 program before it handed development of the space planes over to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) where it became classified.
- Each of the missions for the X-37B range for extended periods of time, with the space planes fact sheet stating that the plane is designed to stay in orbit for 270 days or greater.
- The precise orbit for X-37B is classified by the US military, however, amateur level astronomers can spot the space plane from the ground.
- X-37B is powered by solar and is equipped with gallium arsenide solar cells.
- The space plane has multiple launching and landing sites, being able to land/launch from both sides of the United States.
- It seems that China is developing its own X-37B as the country's state media said last year that "an important breakthrough in reusable spacecraft research" which is "expected to offer convenient and low-cost round-trip transport for the peaceful use of space."
- X-37B's design may eventually turn into an "astronaut ambulance".
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