By Catherine Traywick
The recently concluded 15-month mission of the Air Force OTV has prompted renewed speculation about what exactly it's been doing.
Small, windowless and bearing a classified payload, the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned space plane—the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV)–has been shrouded in mystery since its first flight in December of 2010. Over the weekend the mysterious craft completed its third—and longest—space mission, prompting renewed speculations as to what it does and why: Is it collecting surveillance? Is it a weapon of some kind? Why has it changed hands so many times—from NASA to the Pentagon to the secretive Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office? The Air Force is so far keeping quiet about the OTV’s cargo and the purpose of its 15-month mission in orbit, but has somewhat cryptically stated that plane’s primary objectives are twofold: “Reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.” . . .
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