The mission of the top secret American spaceplane, the X-37B, called the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) as well, has come under increased scrutiny, leading to suppositions that it is being utilized for espionage. The unmanned spacecraft remains in orbit after a launching by the United States Air Force this past March, and has drawn the close attention of American and European optical tracking experts. While the Air Force maintains the X-37B serves in the testing of new technologies, the Pentagon would offer no comment on the vehicle’s purpose. The current issue of Spaceflight magazine, a publication of the British Interplanetary Society, carries a report asserting that the OTV’s mission very likely is spying on the Chinese, specifically China’s spacelab, Tiangong-1. The aforementioned optical tracking experts have observed the almost duplicate orbits of the two spacecraft. Dr. David Baker, editor of Spaceflight, further contends that “space-to-space surveillance” can be achieved by means of highly sophisticated sensors and sensor suites, which the X-37B might be using. The United States has longstanding suspicions regarding China’s space program, in large part due to the indistinct demarcation between the military and civilian nature of its projects.

Brian Weeden, who occupies a technical advisory position with the Secure World Foundation, in addition to being a onetime orbital specialist with the United States Air Force, discounts the Chinese angle to the espionage theory, instead claiming that a much more probable scenario is that the X-37B is keeping watch over the Middle East. He explained to BBC News that the orbit of a spy satellite is normally polar, permitting surveillance of the entire world, but that the OTV’s orbit is much more restricted, covering only a narrow band of latitudes. Mr. Weeden emphasized that the Middle East and Afghanistan comprise the sole sources of interest in the just referred to band. Moreover, he ascribed the extremely corresponding paths of the X-37B and the Tiangong-1 to coincidence, and made the point that the United States has sufficient capability to conduct surveillance of China’s spacelab without resorting to the OTV.

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