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Ex-USAF Secretary Reveals X-37B Spacecraft Capability to Drive America’s Adversaries ‘Nuts’

© AP Photo / US Air ForceUSAF X37B spacecraft at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday, May 7, 2017.
USAF X37B spacecraft at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday, May 7, 2017.  - Sputnik International
Former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson offered a glimpse into the mission of an experimental spaceplane to an audience last week, revealing that the X-37B spaceplane can pull off manoeuvres in space that drives potential adversaries “nuts.”

Wilson was speaking at the Aspen Security Forum when she revealed that the Space Shuttle-like X-37B "can do an orbit that looks like an egg and when it's close to the Earth, it's close enough to the atmosphere to turn where it is," cited by Military.com.

"Which means our adversaries don’t know—and that happens on the far side of the Earth from our adversaries—where it’s going to come up next. And we know that that drives them nuts. And I'm really glad about that,” Wilson said.

Also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), the X-37B was spotted earlier this month by an astronomer in the Netherlands, who captured photos of the robotic space plane in low Earth orbit.

"It is true that the X-37B flies lower than just about every other active satellite and low enough that atmospheric drag is definitely significant," added Brian Weeden, director of program planning and technical adviser for national and international space security for the Secure World Foundation, in an email. "So [Wilson's] statement about using that increased drag, plus its unusual shape, to alter its orbit is plausible."

He added that this disclosure on how the X-37B potentially operates may cause concerns, even among partners and allies, as it may create the impression that it's some type of weapons platform. The X-37B took off for its fifth mission on September 7, 2017. While its payloads and most of its activities are classified, the Air Force said at the time that the mission would carry "the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader (ASETS-II) payload to test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long-duration space environment." 

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