The X-37B, originally built as part of a NASA program and subsequently taken over by the US Air Force, is a reusable Spaceplane looking similar to the Space shuttle, but at 8.9m (29ft 3ins) long and with a wing span of 4.5m (14ft 11ins), it is about a quarter of the size – and is unpiloted.
It was launched via an Atlas 5 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force base on 22nd April this year and returned on “auto-pilot” after a 220 day mission, making it the first autonomous re-entry and landing of the US Space program.
The craft started life as a NASA project and much is known about the design of the X-37B, but as it is now under a military program, the exact purpose of its recent mission remains classified and shrouded in mystery, though speculation has suggested that it might be capable of inspecting foreign military satellites.
However, the official line for now is that “the purpose of the flight was to test the craft itself”.
Hmmmmm………………perhaps we will find out more one day via the WikiLeaks website!