The Air Force's Second Secret Space Plane Returns From More Than A Year in Orbit

By Veronique Greenwood | June 19, 2012 12:38 pm

It’s been a month of reminders that actually, yes, the US government has a lot of giant, high-tech toys that it’s not telling us about. Two weeks ago, it was, “Wait, we have a secret Hubble-sized space telescope? Wait, we have TWO of them?”

This week (especially if you missed the first one’s flight in 2010), it’s, “Wait, we have a secret space plane? Wait…TWO of them?!”

Yes indeed, and the unmanned space plane that’s in the news this week has just returned from a record-breaking 469 days in orbit (the first vehicle, dubbed Orbital Test Vehicle 1, was up for 225 days). These planes, which are made by the Boeing Phantom Works, belong to the Air Force, which says that they are just practicing launching and landing the vehicles. But that can’t be all: presumably there’s some reason why the things have to stay aloft for a year’s time. And the 29-foot planes, which are mini versions of NASA’s Space Shuttle, have cargo bins the size of pickups. The Air Force, though, has not been forthcoming about what they might, either now or in the future, carry inside.

One has to wonder: what else is hanging out in Earth’s orbit? We hope that whatever is out there means that we’re (at least technologically) closer to regular space travel than we think we are. Air Force folks, if you’re listening: it would be nice if the next super-secret space surprise was a hundred-year starship.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology
  • Chris the Canadian

    Then the US government and military wonder why there is so much suspicion about them. I know they can’t divulge everything to the public, but sheesh. Let the public know there is this shuttle or plane or spacecraft don’t tell us what it’s for but don’t hide its existence either.

    Conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with this …

  • Tony Mach

    What the heck? Doesn’t he US already have enough drones to kill at will all over the world? And isn’t there a treaty or some such that bans space based weapons? So what the heck has the USAF lost in space?

  • Mike the Canadian

    The US military has secret projects? No! Really?
    Who’d a thunk it.
    Stop yer whining people. Whats some of the last secret projects that are now used by everyday people?

    How about GPS satellites just to start off with a big one. Something everyone uses or benefits from and was once a secret of the US military.

  • j.england

    I think it’s great that we have something that seems to work and hasn’t already been copied by every other advanced country in the world as they speed by us. Even if this is a fake or ruse just letting other countries THINK we have some serious and unknown capabilities is a great plus.

  • eman

    something evil looking about a plane/spaceship/drone with no front windshield.

  • Jotaf

    There’s a sentence from the linked article that really summarizes the outrage:

    “Why did the NRO have two unused space telescopes, when NASA is barely able to scrape two pennies together?”

  • Big Picture

    Where else could that plane have been during the last year? Is the moon accesssible?

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »