What is the X-37b doing up in space and when will it be back ? Image Credit: US Air Force
The latest mission of the mysterious space plane has so far lasted 500 days and nobody knows what it’s up to.
Resembling a miniature version of NASA’s now-retired space shuttles, this pint-sized robotic space plane was passed over to the US Department of Defense back in 2004 and has since embarked on a series of secretive orbital missions, sometimes spending over a year at a time in space.
It last launched back on May 17th, 2020 and has remained in orbit ever since, most likely carrying out a variety of scientific and technological experiments, but also potentially conducting covert surveillance with an emphasis on the activities of countries such as China and Russia.
What we know about the specifics of this particular mission is limited to what can be discerned from the on-board experiments that it is carrying – some of which having been identified prior to launch.
These include PRAM (Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module) – an experiment from the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) that is designed to investigate the possibility of converting solar energy into radio frequency microwave energy.
It is also carrying the FalconSat-8 satellite – a small experimental platform developed by the US Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory – as well as two NASA experiments designed to study the effects of space on seed samples.
As usual, however, the X-37b’s mission goals are classified, so as things stand we can only guess as to what else it might be doing up there or when it will eventually return to the Earth.
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