It took little more than a pair of binoculars and some determination for a small group of hobbyists to discover the classified flight path of the X-37B U.S. space plane. The X-37B launched into space on May 20 atop an Atlas V rocket on a two-year secret mission, the fourth of its kind. But — secrecy or not — this X-37B is also the fourth to be identified by earthling observers, with one respected hobbyist seeing the craft in orbit.
The X-37B, known officially as Orbital Test Vehicle 4, rocketed into space carrying 100 scientific samples for experimental purposes as well as a LightSail, a solar-powered exploration vehicle that’s being tested for the first time on this trip. That was pretty much everything the public knew about the flight or exactly what the X-37B, which resembles an unmanned version of the space shuttle, was supposed to be doing. Until now.
“OTV 4 entered the lowest initial altitude of the program,” Ted Molczan, a respected satellite watcher, told the news site Spaceflight Now in an article published Wednesday, adding that the still-orbiting satellite is flying closer to Earth than its predecessors did. “The ground track nearly repeats every two days. Frequently repeating ground tracks have been a common feature of the program. This could be an indication of a surveillance mission, or it may offer some operation advantage I have yet to figure out.”.. see more