WILL X-37B MINISHUTTLE SPY ON CHINA’S TIANGONG 1 STATION? MAYBE – BUT NOT YET
Analysis by David Todd
The U.S. Air Force mini-shuttle mission X-37B/OTV 2 (Flight 1), which was launched in March 2011, had its 9 month mission unexpectedly extended at the end of 2011. The magazine of the British Interplanetary Society, Spaceflight, edited by David Baker, came to the conclusion that the U.S. Air Force mini space plane may have a secondary in-space reconnaissance role to spy on China’s manned space programme in addition to its suspected Earth observation role.
Artist’s impression of the X-37B spacecfraft with its payload bay doors open and its solar array deployed. Courtesy: Boeing
The conclusion was reached after amateur watchers noted the similarity in its orbital parameters (inclination, apogee, perigee) to that of China’s Tiangong 1 small space station which was recently used for China’s successful unmanned Shenzhou 8 docking tests. Spaceflight speculated that the mission thus may be being used for intelligence gathering on the Chinese space station. Other orbital analysts disagree, noting that for long term observation their orbits would really have to be in the same plane and that they are currently more or less perpendicular to each ...