The Air Force's shadowy mini-Space Shuttle, the X-37B, spent over a year traveling around our planet. What was it down? We don't know—it's a secret. But now that it's finally landed, it's time for some questions.
Despite more or less copying the design of of the Space Shuttle, the X-37 is completely robotic, guiding itself through the vacuum without human piloting and using barely any fuel in the process. It has room for a cargo payload—cited as space for "experiemnts"—but this is the Air Force, not NASA. If the Pentagon wants a robot that can fly through space for 469 days in a row carrying a payload, it's not going to be doing zero-gravity experiments on any colonies and corn cobs—and don't forget, Russia is building its own. Speculation around the roboshuttle's true mission ranges from space-based nuke launches to foreign satellite destruction.
As it stands now, the X-37B isn't itself going to be seeing any action—but it could certainly be boosting the way for a next generation of space weapons (and the next one takes off this fall). We can be sure there won't be pretty landing footage of the real weapon the X-37B births. [Danger Room]