Secret American Spy-plane Snooping on Chinese Spacelab?China has decided that they want to own space. That’s okay! It’s been a while since we’ve had a good ol’ fashioned space race.
Apparently, though, China’s space ambitions are bothering the US military. That top secret X-37B space plane whose mission was described as being to "demonstrate a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the United States Air Force?" It’s on almost the exact same orbit as China’s current spacelab and future space station Tiangong-1.
The X-37B, Pre-Flight
Clay Dillow of Popular Science lays out what we know pretty concisely:
We know that Tiangong-1—which was launched back in September and is slated to host a manned crew sometime later this year—is in an orbit with an inclination of 42.78 degrees at an altitude of roughly 186 miles. And we know—not from the Pentagon but from a group of vigilant amateur space trackers—that the X-37B is orbiting at about the same altitude and at an inclination of 42.79 degrees. Not only is that orbit strange for a military recon satellite—they usually have polar orbits that offer better access to the entire globe—but it would periodically bring the two orbiters very close together.
The X-37B can carry about as much as a van, and we have no clue what is in its belly. Likewise for the Tiangong-1; while China has been surprisingly open about its ambitions and goals, there could be anything onboard.
So what we have is a space plane the government refuses to talk about orbiting close to a space station from a country we refuse to make space deals with. Can you say ‘pew-pew?’