Last Saturday an Atlas V lifted off from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. Inside its fairing was a Boeing X-37B. The mini-space shuttle is surrounded in mystery, so this launch, and the previous launch, have sent conspiracy theorists all a-twitter.
The X-37B is a scaled up version of the Boeing/NASA X-40 from the late 1990s. Designed as a reusable launch vehicle, the X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle has become the focus of every tinfoil hat wearing mofo on the planet. But why?
Last April, the fully automated mini-spaceplane made its first space flight. That mission, and this, are classified. If you wanna get the conspirists all worked up, classify shit. Really. Oh sure, officially, the launch on Saturday is to study controls and instrumentation on the X-37B. Conspiracy theorists will tell you it’s all part of the weaponization of space by the US. Or something more insidious. Like delivering satellites that, at the press of a button, can turn Pluto from a planet to something just above comet. Oh wait, that already happened. See! Be fearful! The military is out to get you!
Incidentally, this isn’t the first time the Air Force has sought its own spaceplane. In the late 1950s, the US Air Force contracted Boeing to build the X-20 Dyna-Soar, which would have been a manned spaceplane that the military hoped to use for satellite deliver, repair, reconnaissance, bombing, and sabotage of Commie satellites. The X-20 project was cancelled shortly after construction of the craft began.
So maybe there’s something to the conspiracy theories after all.
[Image Credits: United Launch Alliance, Public Domain]