Sunday, May 23, 2010

Secret X-37B Space Plane and Amateur Astronomers

"Secret X-37B Space Plane Spotted by Amateur Skywatchers" (May 22, 2010)

"While the U.S. Air Force is mum about the orbital whereabouts of its X-37B mini-space plane, a dedicated band of amateur skywatchers has got its cross-hairs on the spacecraft.

"The unpiloted X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 1 was lofted on April 22 atop an Atlas launcher. It is being flown under the auspices of the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

"In U.S. military tracking parlance, when the space plane reached orbit it became identified as Catalog Number 36514, 2010-015A, OTV-1 (USA 212)...."

"...But thanks to a worldwide eyes-on-the-sky network of amateurs, the spacecraft is reportedly in a 39.99 degrees inclination, circling the Earth in an orbit 401 kilometers by 422 kilometers. This data may change slightly as the vehicle's orbit is better refined, said Greg Roberts of Cape Town, South Africa, a pioneer in using telescopic video cameras to track spacecraft, chalking up exceptional results over the years...."

Looks like the X-37B launch went off on schedule. The article gives a pretty good set of information on the test flight, and what the robotic spaceplane will probably be used for.

Some of the article's written, I think, more for the amateur astronomer - or for folks who are interested in amateur astronomy. The Lemming fits into that category. I've been out on observing sessions: but I'd much rather read about using telescopes than stand out in a Minnesota field, trying to use one.

It's a pretty good writeup of this test flight of a 'secret' Air Force vehicle. Although for a 'secret' project, there's been an awful lot of publicity. I've posted about this before. Fairly often, I see.

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