|The USAF X-37B space plane may be about as taikonauts enter space lab.|
Saturday, March 24, 2012
X-37B Space Plane "Game-Changing" Mission Extended Indefinitely; Third Launch Planned
The military's mysterious, experimental unmanned space plane is doing such a good job that its mission has been extended indefinitely—if only anyone knew what its mission was. The mission is top secret.
Details on the mission involving the X-37B are virtually nonexistent. The official U.S. Air Force fact sheet says the vehicle is being used as an "experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force," reports U.S.News & World Report.
The Boeing-build spacecraft began its life as a NASA program, with the Air Force contributing some development funds. It was originally conceived as a vehicle that could robotically refuel or repair satellites. Once NASA decided to drop the program, it was transferred to the Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA), and then to the Air Force, where it became a top secret, "black" program.
Chinese space lab, Tiangong-1, where Chinese taikonauts are expected to arrive in the next few weeks.
The current orbiting USAF X-37B is the second space plane placed into low erath orbit. The first launched and landed successfully spending 220 days in space in 2010. Nevertheless, USAF General Shelton said that the military has no intention of purchasing any more of the winged, resuable vehciles, which resemble a smaller version of NASA's now retired space shuttle. The general did confirm a third mission for one of the two X-37B spacecraft is set for the fall of 2012.