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A Top Secret Air Force Space Drone Has Been Orbiting Earth for Almost 2 Years

The Pentagon's experimental unmanned space plane, the X-37B, just broke a record after orbiting the planet for 719 days straight. But what's it doing up there?

by Matthew Gault
Aug 27 2019, 5:35pm

Image: US Air Force

The Pentagon’s X-37B space drone broke a record yesterday for orbiting above planet Earth for 719 days straight, beating its own previous record of 717 days.

What's that, you say? You didn't know that the US military has been flying a drone in orbit around the Earth for almost two consecutive years? Well, here's another nugget for you: we don't know what it's doing because the mission is classified.

In fact, many of the specifics regarding the X-37B and its various missions is classified, and the little that we do know comes from official Air Forces sources. According to the Air Force, the primary objectives of the X-37B project are to develop reusable unmanned spacecraft "for America's future in space" and to host experiments that can be brought back down to Earth and examined.

NASA started the X-37 project in 1999, looking for a way to put a cheap and reusable drone in space. DARPA took the project over in 2004 and NASA scrapped its old models. The current iteration of the craft, the X-37B, has already flown four successful missions—the current record-breaking mission is its fifth.

“The first four...missions have spent a total of 2,085 days on orbit, successfully checking out the X-37B’s reusable flight, reentry and landing technologies as well as operating experiments to benefit the national space community,” the Air Force said.

The record breaking fifth mission is ongoing, with the X-37B still orbiting the planet, cruising above us as the Amazon burns. No human controller sits in its seat. What’s it doing up there? Experiments, sure, but what kind?

In just eleven days, the X-37B will have spent a full two years circling the planet, with only a small selection of human minders back on the ground aware of its activities.