The U.S. Air Force is on the verge of showcasing a new and long-sought after spaceflight capacity with its X-37B space plane, but it will do so on a space mission that's cloaked in secrecy.
What the X-37B mission truly portends is in the eye of the beholder, from a game-changing tool to hone military hardware to a provocative harbinger of things-to-come in terms of space warfare.
Now ready for an Atlas boost into Earth orbit from Florida on April 20, the reusable robotic X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) is a small space shuttle-like craft. The craft will wing its way into Earth orbit, remain aloft for an unspecified time, then high-tail its way back down to terra-firma – auto-piloting down to a landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, or at neighboring Edwards Air Force Base as back-up.
I for one welcome our new robotic overlords, etc., etc.
The extent of the scientific and military avenues that such a space plane would open up are presently impossible to imagine. Though the payload capacity is much smaller, the fact that no on-board crew is required means that the descendants of the X-37B may actually be able to fulfill the functional vision of the Space Shuttle.