Lewis Page
The Register
May 24, 2010

Amateur astronomers believe they have located the X-37B US military unmanned spaceplane, which was launched into orbit on a classified mission a month ago.

According to the authoritative skygazers’ site Heavens-Above, the X-37B is in an orbit angled up 40 degrees from the Equator, meaning that it passes regularly over all nations between southern Europe and South Africa and corresponding portions of south Asia, Australia, Latin America and much of the USA. The little spaceplane is at a height of approximately 400km above Earth.

The X-37B is operated by the US Air Force and its mission, budget and other particulars are classified, or “black”. Nonetheless, various facts about the project are known as it began life as a NASA programme.

The X-37B takes off inside a fairing atop a normal disposable launch stack, in this case an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral a month ago. It is much smaller than a space shuttle, but like the shuttle has delta-shaped wings which should offer similar “cross range” abilities during re-entry – that is the X-37B could potentially make a landing somewhere well off its orbital track.

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