Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Mysterious X-37B

For an orbiting object, the X-37B - a remotely-piloted spacecraft capable of reentry like the space shuttle - recently performed a neat trick - for two weeks, it disappeared.

A NASA reject now in the hands of the Air Force, it is currently in orbit on a long-term shakedown mission. From the description in the article, its new owners are trying to find out just what it can do, which apparently includes the ability to radically alter its orbit.

While its mere existence seems to be prompting worries about the weaponization of space - worries that ignore the fact that China is already well on its way to to developing at a minimum space denial and satellite shootdown technology - the fact that this craft exists at all should be providing a faint ray of hope, that the United States hasn't turned its back on its space infrastructure completely.

The reconnaissance possibilities of the X-37B alone are fantastic. The chief drawback to recon satellites is their predictability. With the growth of the Internet and the satellite-tracking information it makes, it is now possible for anyone to know when a satellite is due overhead, and hide or camouflage their activities. The X-37B can potentially provide the United States the same ability the retired SR-71 or the soon to be retired U-2 did/does - the ability to look in on the baddies when they're not expecting it.

And there is (supposedly) far more to the X-37B than that, including an impressive cargo-carrying capability.

I'll be watching with interest.