Since mankind has been able to successfully launch things into outer space, satellites and other spacecrafts that orbit Earth have steadily been growing in number.
At the moment, about 4,256 satellites currently circle our beautiful planet on a regular basis. 713 of them are used for communications, 374 are used for Earth observation and science, 160 of them are being used as technology demonstrations, and 105 of them are being used for navigation and GPS (global positioning systems).
So, it begs the question: what is Boeing’s mysterious X-37B spacecraft doing up there that can’t be released to the public?
Operated by the United States Air Force, the X-37B craft just finished its 600th day orbiting the Earth, and no one has any real idea as to what its mission is. Also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), X-37B launched from Cape Canaveral on May 20th in 2015.
X-37B is a relatively small spacecraft, measuring about 30 feet in length. But, like its larger spacecraft brothers and sisters, it features a payload bay and a robotic arm. And it’s solar-powered, lending to its amazing ability to function in orbit for long periods of time as it travels upwards of 17,500 miles per hour around the Earth.
While we do know that the launch of this vehicle contained NASA materials science experiments and a type of ion thruster, the end game for this mission is still a complete mystery to everyone outside of NASA.
Theories surrounding its purpose include NASA’s testing of thrusters in low orbit to help reconnaissance satellites obtain higher resolution imaging of the Earth’s surface. Others believe that the craft is already surveilling regions of the Earth.
The United States Air Force writes on their website that the “primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”
But, that hasn’t fully convinced many people who suspect that it’s most likely doing something entirely different. Either way, this spacecraft has been functioning in orbit for 600 days and that’s pretty impressive.