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For almost two years, an unmanned space plane bearing a remarkable resemblance to NASA’s space shuttle has circled the Earth, performing a top-secret mission. It’s called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle — but that’s pretty much all we know for certain.

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The Pentagon’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. Officially, the only role the Pentagon acknowledges is that it’s used to conduct experiments on new technologies.

Officially, the only role the Pentagon acknowledges is that the space plane is used to conduct experiments on new technologies. Theories about its mission have ranged from an orbiting space bomber to an anti-satellite weapon.

The truth, however, is likely much more obvious: According to intelligence experts and satellite watchers who have closely monitored its orbit, the X-37B is being used to carry secret satellites and classified sensors into space — a little-known role once played by NASA’s new retired space shuttle.

For a decade between the 1980s and early 1990s, NASA’s space shuttle was used for classified military missions, which involved ferrying military payloads into space. But the shuttle’s military role rested on an uneasy alliance between NASA and the Pentagon. Even before the 1986 Challenger disaster, which killed all seven crewmembers, the Pentagon had grown frustrated with NASA’s delays.

Now, with the X-37B, the Pentagon no longer has to rely on NASA, or humans.

The X-37B resembles the shuttle, or at least a shrunken down version of the shuttle. Like the space shuttle, the X-37B is boosted into orbit by an external rocket, but lands like an aircraft on a conventional runway. But the X-37B is just shy of 10 feet tall and slightly less than 30 feet long.

Written by Sharon Weinberger
Read more at NY Post

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