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US 'Space Warplane' Spying On Chinese Spacelab 158

PolygamousRanchKid sends this excerpt from El Reg: "The U.S. Air Force's second mysterious mini-space shuttle, the X-37B, could be spying on China's space laboratory and the first piece of its space station, Tiangong-1. Amateur space trackers told the British Interplanetary Society publication Spaceflight that the black-funded spaceplane seemed to be orbiting the Earth in tandem with Tiangong-1, or the Heavenly Palace, leading the magazine to speculate that its unknown mission is to spy on [the lab]. ... The lab is unmanned for the moment, so all there'd be to study is the technology of the craft and what experiments it's doing. Still, the U.S. is hugely suspicious of China's space endeavors, so it's more than possible that they'd want to get a look at Tiangong-1 just in case it's doing anything unexpected." Update: 01/06 21:50 GMT by S : Further calculations have shown that this is not the case after all.
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US 'Space Warplane' Spying On Chinese Spacelab

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @12:05PM (#38610372)

    Not going to get into too many details, but if you look at the orbits of the objects, they are not in the correct positions for OTV to get a good look at Tiangong. Why not get into details? Because the folks that understand this already know. And the people that don't understand what an RAAN is will probably just continue to believe these stories.

  • Re:Just imagine (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Friday January 06, 2012 @12:21PM (#38610590) Journal

    This would also allow the US to monitor uplink communications to the satellite as it crosses over China, which would otherwise be impossible (especially if the Chinese are using very directional ground-based equipment). Note that the satellites only cross paths every so often. It's not like they are sitting side by side in orbit or something.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Friday January 06, 2012 @12:31PM (#38610696) Homepage
    or any other "axis of evil" power for that matter can do in the wake of american foreign policy and dominionism is to be peaceful. if iran's nuclear program never moves beyond nuclear fuel for reactors, and chinas space aspirations remain seated in the exploration of the cosmos, then america is left without a boogeyman for the immediate future.
  • by powerlord ( 28156 ) on Friday January 06, 2012 @01:03PM (#38611074) Journal

    I agree with what you say somewhat but one nuclear space weapon would take the whole thing out. So it doesn't seem like a threat to us, but hey the Chinese need to get ready to police the world now that we no longer can due to corporate welfare. Let them waste some time and money doing that AFAIC.

    If you think the Chinese mentality is to Police the world, then I'm afraid you are in for a rude awakening.

    Conquer (militarily, culturally, monetarily), is more in line with the predominant cultural beliefs than police.

  • Re:Ho-hum... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Friday January 06, 2012 @01:03PM (#38611078)

    We may very well have a satellite in geostationary orbit over the middle-east, but what good would it do? Spy-sats typically fly at an altitude of a couple-hundred miles... geostationary orbit is roughly 100 times farther away, which makes it practically useless for most "spy" applications.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Friday January 06, 2012 @01:46PM (#38611656) Journal

    From LEO, high surface-area/mass objects can deorbit within a couple orbits or so

    A couple of orbits or so along a predictable trajectory is a lot easier to shoot down than a low-altitude cruise missile. It might make sense to put something like a massive laser in space, but getting it into the right orbit for a strike and providing it with enough power to punch through the atmosphere and do more than give people on the ground a mild sunburn would be nontrivial.

    And a big benefit of on-orbit munitions is that they may have a good chance of surviving a first strike in a nuclear war

    Not really. Both the USA and China have tested ground-to-space missiles for shooting down satellites and laser systems that can disable or destroy satellites from the ground. Creating an orbital weapons platform that can survive missile and laser strikes from the ground would be a massive engineering challenge. In any modern nuclear first strike scenario, these things would be the first to be launched, because you want to destroy the enemy's ability to track your launches.

  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:13PM (#38612866)

    Umm, isn't that exactly what the USA has done since WW2?

    Funny you should ask. "No" would be the correct answer to that question.

    But I'll check with our colonies in what used to be Germany and Japan, just to be sure. Our viceroy in South Korea or our Puppet Leaders in eastern Europe may also have some comments, of course. Oh, righ, none of that's actually the case.

    You're confusing "the USA" with "everyone who didn't want to live under totalitarian regimes."

  • by CheerfulMacFanboy ( 1900788 ) on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:01PM (#38616724) Journal

    If you think the Chinese mentality is to Police the world, then I'm afraid you are in for a rude awakening.

    Conquer (militarily, culturally, monetarily), is more in line with the predominant cultural beliefs than police.

    And I thought Chinese mentality/culture was to build high walls around your country and hope nobody gets in and disturbs you.

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain