Obviously folks are tracking this bird rather closely because it obviously provides the military with dedicated capability to support space borne structures and hardware and has been a clear need for a long time.
It may not be obvious, but a hot missile in orbit is in position to engage anything lifting off from the surface or airborne. A hot missile with sensing and targeting capability now already demonstrated can react and run such a threat down easily inside the operational time frames available.
I envisaged a long time ago that the true star wars defense from Earth orbit would be packs of hunter killer missiles sustained with supply modules in various locations along an equatorial orbit a few minutes apart. We have the hot missiles and up there there is no delay countering gravity.
The main advantage of such a protocol is that there is little need for vulnerable central systems except that needed to support resupply of a given missile pack Even that can designed to be loosely connected to lower vulnerability. Real command and control can be distributed throughout the packs and made highly redundant.
Such a system could be easily installed and supported by a space plane such as what we are seeing here.
It could effectively end the threat of earth launched missiles and aircraft.
When I talk about a hot missile, I mean a very fast missile whose kinetic energy is huge and is ideal for a kinetic kill of a lumbering ICBM. It may explode on closing to provide a cone of destruction and to prevent much chance of a miss.
By Peter Farquhar, Technology Editor
August 25, 2010 9:08AM
AMATEUR astronomers are enjoying a cat-and-mouse game with the
military in keeping track of its secret space plane, the X-37B. US
The X-37B was launched in April amid much publicity, but scant detail about its true use.
Built by Boeing's Phantom Works division, the X-37B program was originally headed by NASA.
It was later turned over to the Pentagon's research and development arm and then to a secretive Air Force unit.
Only a very select few in the
military know what it's for, but observers on Earth believe they're putting together the puzzle piece by piece. US
Several sources claim quote arms control advocates who say it's clearly the beginning of the "weaponisation of space".
In May, avid skywatcher Ted Molczan studied the X-37B's orbit from his home in
and said its behaviour suggested it was testing sensors for a range of new spy satellites. Toronto
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.
When he did, he noticed it was some 30km higher and on a different trajectory, according to calculations from other colleagues in
Rome and . Oklahoma
The X-37B's new track means it takes six days to pass the same spot on Earth, as opposed to its original four-day track.
Mr Molczan believes this may be another small piece to the puzzle about what role the shuttle may play in US military operations.
"This small change of orbit may have been a test of OTV-1's manoeuvring system, or a requirement of whatever payload may be aboard, or both," he said in a release paper about Roberts' X-37B find.
The shuttle has been in orbit now for 124 days. It uses a solar array once in space for power, which theoretically will allow it to stay airborne for up to 270 days.
But the additional presence of large fuel tanks and a rocket motor allows it to change orbit, as evidenced by the latest sudden change of course.
According to the The Register, this is a key component of its surveillance-related capabilities, along with the fact it can land in a much more versatile fashion than other shuttles.
Using its "cross-range" wings, it can duck off elsewhere once its entered the Earth's atmosphere rather than follow its oribital track to a pre-specified landing pad.
This means the X-37B can get up and down from space in one orbit, as its wings allow it to compensate for the slight turn in the Earth and bend it back to its original launch pad.
The Register says that capability would make it difficult to track, as it would only pass over a region once.
Theoretically, it could drop a spy satellite on one run, then pick it up on the next without the satellite having ever been detected.
Other observers claim the X-37B can carry a payload roughly the size of a medium-sized truck bed, or enough to hold a spy satellite.
According to the Pentagon, a second X-37B is under construction, so expect the guessing game to continue for some time about what the
military is really up to in space. US
Until now, all that remains known about the X-37B is that is it has at least one trick - the ability to hide from skywatchers for two weeks.