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Space The Military United States

Amateurs Spy On US Spy Plane 172

arshadk writes with this excerpt from Wired's Danger Room: "The X-37B has generated intense interest, long before it ever left the ground. Boeing originally developed the 29-foot unmanned craft — a kind of miniature Space Shuttle — for NASA. Then, the military took over in 2004, and the space plane went black. Its payloads were classified, its missions hush-hush. ... You can even see the space plane for yourself: The X-37B is traveling in a slightly elliptical orbit more than 200 miles up, swooping from 43 degrees north latitude to 43 degrees south."
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Amateurs Spy On US Spy Plane

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  • by Goaway ( 82658 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @08:24PM (#35696644) Homepage

    Is that just three sentences copypasted at random, with no attempt whatsoever made to explain what this article is about, or what?

    • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @08:52PM (#35696792) Journal

      Here's a summary:
      Each time the X-37B is launched a bunch of amateurs make a game out of finding it in orbit. It took a month to find it using telescopes on the first mission, but only 4 days on the current mission. It is currently in a very low (lower than the space station) non-polar orbit, which is unusual for spy satellites, because it will never cross large areas of the planet. So they presume it is used for spying on specific areas on this mission, likely the Middle East as it has good coverage of that area. Basically all that's known is its orbit, not what it is capable of nor what it is actually doing.

      • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @11:32PM (#35697492) Journal
        If they wanted good coverage of the Middle East, they'd put the bird in a Molniya style orbit. This sounds like a circular orbit
        • If they wanted good coverage of the Middle East, they'd put the bird in a Molniya style orbit. This sounds like a circular orbit

          Thanks for the wikipedia []-visit-causing post :-D (+1 informative, if I had mod points)

        • by amorsen ( 7485 ) <> on Sunday April 03, 2011 @01:19AM (#35697802)

          A Molniya orbit has the disadvantage that the apogee is over the area you want to watch. The X-37B seems to prefer being quite low; I do not believe you could construct a useful Molniya orbit with such a low apogee. At perigee it would be extremely low and quite fast, which means lots of air resistance.

        • I thought Molniya orbits were for primarily higher latitudes, which is where the Middle East isn't.

          Not to mention, the apogee dwell occurs at, well, near and at apogee, which is also not what you want for an imaging satellite. Unless you want it swooping by the earth at the perigee, where it is going it's fastest.
          • Molniya orbits were designed by the soviets who obviously would want high latitude orbits.

            I don't understand why you consider having the apogee over the area you want to watch to be a disadvantage. I would think you'd want a spy satellite to dwell over the target area as long as possible.
            • It is the orbital inclination that makes the Molniya orbit attractive to the soviets. The high inclination combined with the ~12 hour elliptical orbit gives it a high dwell time near one of the poles (can be either pole, but not both).

              For an imaging satellite, you don't want to be farther away. For a signals intelligence satellite, it might not matter as much, so the high dwell at apogee might be more beneficial. For that reason, the US has fielded spy satellites in Molniya orbits for spying on the s
      • IMHO, whose word are w taking that is A. unmanned, B.incapable of being manned?

        I was under the assumption that the original plans were for a sub-orbital to drop a company of Marines any place in the world in less than an hour. Or OTOH, I may be wrong and that's a different model.

    • Yeah, don't you just hate that?
  • An article a little while back published its secret launch date
  • Orbital clues (Score:5, Insightful)

    by similar_name ( 1164087 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @08:31PM (#35696672)
    From the article

    The typical spy satellite has a polar orbit...

    ...The X-37B, on the other hand, is orbiting around the fat middle of the plane...

    ...The orbit lends credence to the idea that the space plane is an orbiting spy.

    Just sayin'

  • Where to look (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ironchew ( 1069966 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @08:40PM (#35696714) []
    Enter your coordinates (requires a login, otherwise it's 0 degrees N / 0 degrees E) and look for the X-37B link under "Satellites".

  • Metricate, damnit! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stormwatch ( 703920 ) <.rodrigogirao. .at.> on Saturday April 02, 2011 @08:45PM (#35696750) Homepage


    To 95% of world's population: that's 8.83m.

    • by SteveM ( 11242 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @08:53PM (#35696798)
      Actually, that's true for 100% of the world's population.
    • I like to think of it as 8.83 billion [] nanometers.
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by Stormwatch ( 703920 )

        Ew. If there's one thing that strikes me as even more ridiculous than the imperial system, it's this "milliard" bullshit.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by danbeck ( 5706 )

      No. We already use it for any serious scientific or engineering work (with the exception if this idiot blunder: [])

      Why does it make you so upset that we use SI for our recipes and street signs?

    • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Saturday April 02, 2011 @10:05PM (#35697098) Journal

      To 95% of world's population: that's 8.83m.

      Yeah, but that 95% doesn't have an X-37B, so it really doesn't matter, does it?

      Our super-secret spy space-drone, our units of measurement. That's how we roll up in this bitch.

      • by jo_ham ( 604554 )

        How do you know? Perhaps the other 95% are better at keeping their secret spy planes actually secret? :p

        • by jd ( 1658 )

          Last I heard, the Swedes were working on a Stealth Frigate, a ship effectively invisible to radar and sonar (carbon fibre hull, ultra-dark materials, non-ferrous engines, that sort of thing). Haven't heard anything on that since. If they actually developed such a vessel, then between that and Google Earth, I'm not sure they'd need any spy planes.

        • How do you know? Perhaps the other 95% are better at keeping their secret spy planes actually secret? :p


          That's Italian for "you win, wiseguy".

          And if the "other 95%" are such smarty-pantses, why can't I use a diacritic on Slashdot so I can spell touché properly? It's almost 2012, one would think they'd have figured this out by now.

      • by MBC1977 ( 978793 )
        You sir, get the cool comeback prize! LOL I need mod points!
    • Its probably a nine metre space plane and the 29 foot figure was made up for public consumption.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Well when the less advanced 95% finally can make something as cool then they can publish their specs in that commie measuring system.

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *

      It's an American spycraft, so it only uses feet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 02, 2011 @10:30PM (#35697208)

    The X-37B is partially classified. It is not anywhere near secret. There is a huge difference.

    Classified projects are frequently used for promotion and propaganda. Secret projects are actually kept secret.

  • by vitriolum ( 1280610 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @10:50PM (#35697298)
    Looks like the current orbit will take it right over Tripoli. []
    • by goruka ( 1721094 )
      Mod parent up, it's going straight over the Lybian coast. This confirms the point in the article about why this kind of orbits are useful. It seems that it can obtain a complete picture of the lybian coastline every a few couple of hours, something very difficult to achieve with current satellites. What is most disturbing is that uprisings in Lybia were just begining when X37-B was launched, and it wasn't clear that a civil war broke up yet, so did the military change plans for the mission, or was all this
  • by aled ( 228417 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @11:25PM (#35697452)
    yes, yes, that's interesting but what we really want to know is when it will become self aware and start killing humans?
  • Was I the only one who initially missed the S, and thought the headline was, "Amateur Spy On US Spy Plane" ?

    Clearly that spy can't be considered a green-horn anymore; Getting a seat on an unmanned space flight is no small feat!

  • by kupekhaize ( 220804 ) on Sunday April 03, 2011 @04:48AM (#35698206) Homepage

    It's amazing what you can do when you've got an object in space that you can set up with minimal overhead. I mean, hey, its not like those big expensive spy satellites have a limited fuel or anything. Sure, Libya had always been kind of a nuisance, but I assume there weren't that many spy satellites within range before. One of the features of this thing was that it had oversized engines for what it was, meaning it could make drastic orbit changes at short notice. Anyone know how long its been in this orbit over Libya?

    It's been speculated (more assumption...) that the X-37B could be a test platform for new surveillance equipment. Could be they have some new cameras with some awesome resolution to test out. Might be some kind of new sensors, or maybe some kind of a mirror or laser communication relay, to bounce a signal for someone covert down in Tripoli. For all we know, it could be some crazy new concept we won't hear about for another 20 years.

    Anyone know if its orbit brings it within close proximity of any other satellites? Some people have said it could be used to interfere with the satellites from other countries. Maybe, its secretly plotting to activate SkyNet in conjunction with another satellite that recently went up [] and we have no idea what its doing..

    Or, for all we know, its just a camera, the same one they've been using on the other spy satellites for years. Just one that has lots of fuel, and thus, lots of orbit changes before coming down to be refueled and given newer tech cameras.

    The world may never know. Or may already know, and just not know it.

  • The Crossbow Project. There's No Defense Like a Good Offense

  • Picture of X-40A in an article on an X-37B launch?! :) []

    I doubt if that was the intention...

interlard - vt., to intersperse; diversify -- Webster's New World Dictionary Of The American Language