x-37b-spaceplaneThe U.S. Air Force is testing a top secret spaceplane, dubbed X-37B, and nobody knows what it’s for. There’s some speculative reports hypothesizing as to why it exists, but nothing is publicly known other than it shares a lineage to any old U.S. space shuttle. You may have even seen it and didn’t even know.

The thing about the X-37B is that, even though it uses some of the same space shuttle tech, this one is unmanned. Shoot it up toward the sky, let it languish in orbit for a few months, and it’ll automatically return to Earth. What does the USAF have planned? Edge-of-space Halo missions? Conspirators believe this will act as “on-demand reconnaissance” for some serious spying.

So far, the Air Force has explained that the X-37B, which is slated for a third launch on Dec. 11, is nothing more than a “reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform.” Harmless, if you believe their statement. The spaceplane’s purpose sounds more closely to a NASA job description: Test reusable spacecraft technologies and conduct experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth,” BBC wrote.

“I think the guess that makes most sense is quick-response tactical imaging, meaning hours to a couple of days from request to delivery,” said Allen Thomson, a former CIA analyst. That sounds like a lot more than a space test platform.

Many reports suggest this is a super spy satellite because of amateur observations. Alleged “satellite watchers” claim the X-37B has similar orbit patterns to that of spy satellites and scientific remote sensing craft. Not only that, but its been seen changing its orbital trajectory during flight, which suggests the craft’s maneuverability is being tested. Jon Johnson-Freese, professor of national security studies at the U.S. Naval War College, said it’s so the spaceplane won’t “be in a predictable place at a predictable time.”

Whatever it’s being used for, the mystery craft isn’t a “weaponisation of space,” said Gary Payton, the Air Force’s deputy undersecretary for space programs. “We, the Air Force, have a suite of military missions in space and this new vehicle could potentially help us do those missions better.”

It’s impossible to know the exact purpose of the craft unless you’re an authorized personnel among the USAF. Is it being used for real world operations? That’s valid questions, but one we likely won’t know the full details of anytime soon, if ever. In any case, if you see a space shuttle-like object soaring through the sky in December, just smile and wave, because you’re probably being watched.

[via BBC]