I have been watching with growing levels of delight as a community of amateur satellite hunters have been tracking one of our nation’s newest space platforms, known as the X-37B. In this age of internet pundits seeking real time vainglory for themselves, there is rampant speculation what this thing is for, with frequent references to the “weaponization of space“.
Now word from the amateur sky watchers that our toy was able to disappear for a few weeks for some “alone time” away from their telescopes and orbital tracking software.
In May, avid skywatcher Ted Molczan studied the X-37B’s orbit from his home in Toronto and said its behaviour suggested it was testing sensors for a range of new spy satellites.
Since then, the X-37B been arguably the least-secret secret project on the planet, as fellow backyard astronomers joined in the scrutiny, aided by how-to video guides and apps such as the Simple Satellite Tracker.
That is, they did until July 29, when the shuttle disappeared, causing all kinds of consternation and conspiracy theories about its fate.
It took amateur skywatcher Greg Roberts of Cape Town, South Africa, who noticed that it failed to appear as scheduled above his base on August 14, another five days to find it.
Word to the guys with the telescopes, chances that this thing is carrying a weapon are pretty much zero. You are probably looking at the next generation of space based sensor platform courtesy of your tax dollars and the brilliant minds at the NRO. When the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) went down in flames, they decided to try something new, and new is a good word to describe this thing. Unlike current space based reconnoissance platforms, this thing is maneuverable, recoverable, and can appear over a target by surprise. Because they can bring it home, they can change out the sensors and re-configure the platform to meet changing mission demands.
As it’s current trip is its maiden voyage, I am sure there are many more tricks this thing has left to employ. Word to the bad guys, we are still watching.