Boeing built at least two X-37Bs for the Air Force in the mid-2000s reportedly at a cost of around a billion dollars apiece. While it looks like a miniature version of NASA’s Space Shuttle, which retired from service in 2011, the X-37B essentially is a small, reusable and maneuverable satellite with a shorter per-mission endurance compared to single-use satellites.
The fifth and latest X-37B mission could send the mini-shuttle over large portions of Russian territory for the first time.
A Dutch skywatcher achieved a rare feat in late June and early July 2019. Using a 10-inch-diameter telescope fitted with a camera, Ralf Vandebergh photographed the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane in mid-mission 210 miles over Earth’s surface.
“We can recognize a bit of the nose, payload bay and tail of this mini-shuttle, with even a sign of some smaller detail,” Vandebergh told Space.com.
Vandebergh had been hunting for the robotic spacecraft for months and finally managed to track it down in May 2019, according to Space.com reporter Leonard David. But it took a few more weeks to actually photograph the roughly 29-feet-long robotic shuttle.
“When I tried to observe it again [in] mid-June, it didn’t meet the predicted time and path,” Vandebergh told David. “It turned out to have maneuvered to another orbit. Thanks to the amateur satellite observers’ network, it was rapidly found in orbit again, and I was able to take some images on June 30 and July 2, .”
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