The X-37B: America’s Secret Spaceplane

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.

X-37B after landing at Vandenberg AFB.

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]

  • Reminds me of the Martin Marietta X-24A.

  • This is why I buy all my tin foil hats in bulk from Costco.

  • highmileage_v1

    I'm betting Zefram Cochrane is onboard.

  • If we're going to militarize space, I'd rather the U.S. do it.

    You only think the X-20 project was quashed.

    • <img src="; height="480">
      Frankly, I find the space shuttle and ISS rather blasphemous. I was taught all through my grade-school years that THIS was how God intended spaceplanes to carry future adventurers, businessmen, and zero-g soda jerks into space — on TOP of a ROCKET, not strapped to the side of a giant football. And their destination is supposed to be a big spinning ring, not a titanium tinkertoy set.

      <img src=""&gt;

      In my view, the conspiracy clearly started with the disappearance of soda jerks.

    • highmileage_v1

      I'm with you. At least the US is somewhat transparent and accountable for orbital operations. The other guys, not so much.

      Just for fun I dug up the Lunex program, the USAF plans for an intelligence gathering base on the moon. Fairly ambitious for a 1958 plan. But while I was doing this I stumbled on the SAINT program, an early anti-satellite operation dating from about the late 1950's into the early '60's. It does make one wonder what else is being developed out there…

  • "If you wanna get the conspiricists all worked up, classify shit."
    You should put that on a t-shirt.

  • acarr260

    For the militarization of space, please see Star Wars (the Reagan version, not the Lucas version).

    • what about the Sheen version?

      [youtube 665PiWDqXyc youtube]

    • ptschett

      SDI was nothing compared to the space-battleship variant of Project Orion (the nuclear pulse rocket, not the new/old-style capsule-on-a-disintegrating-totem-pole crap.) Reportedly JFK was horrified by the scale model, which represented a vessel carrying 500 Minuteman missiles' worth of warheads.