X-37B

US Air Force X-37B

We all know that bureaucracy can lead to overcomplicated situations. If you’ve never heard of UNOOSA then rest assured you will not be the only one. The acronym stands for United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, it’s history can be traced back to the late fifties and early sixties. How does this relate to the X-37B? Well, the UNOOSA created *prepare yourself* the Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, which has been accepted by the United Nations General Assembly. You can read the content in its entirety here but the short summary would be that all space exploration will be done with good intentions and is equally open to all States that comply with international law… basically, don’t be the classroom bully shaking down or beating up the other kids.

So, interesting then that the US airforce is developing its own military shuttle, the highly secretive X-37B. Fully automated, launched atop a Boeing Atlas-V rocket and able to stay in orbit for months at a time, there don’t seem to be many actual facts about its purpose floating about. Commanded by the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron, 21st Space Wing, of the Air Force Space Command in Colorado, its official mission is “to provide resilient and cost-effective Space and Cyberspace capabilities for the Joint Force and the Nation.” Several times smaller than the retired Space Shuttles of which its aerodynamic design was derived, the project started in 1999 when NASA selected Boeing Integrated Defense Systems to design and develop an orbital vehicle. It was built by the California branch of Boeing’s Phantom Works whose primary focus is developing advanced military products and technologies, many of them highly classified. Five years later, the operation was  transferred from NASA to DARPA and became shrouded in mystery.

The Air Force stated it will “demonstrate various experiments and allow satellite sensors, subsystems, components, and associated technology to be transported into space and back”, which could mean absolutely anything. Surely it will only be a matter of time before the public will start asking questions en masse – until someone else leaks a bundle of cables disclosing everything of course.

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