X-37B Space Plane: What This Terrifying Air Force Drone Could Be Doing in Earth's Orbit

Mark your calendars: the Air Force’s super-secret X-37B robotic space plane is cleared to lift off on Tuesday. Yes, by Tuesday afternoon, somewhere in Earth's orbit, a deadly super-drone will be watching your every move from space.

The X-37B plane, Orbital Test Vehicle-3, and a mysterious classified payload is set to be hurled into near-Earth orbit by an Atlas 5 rocket launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFAS) at 1:03 PM EST. This is the third flight of the unmanned space plane: Two previous test launches were performed, including an April 2010 flight that lasted 224 days, and a March 2011 flight on a different model which lasted 469 days.

According to USA Today, the unmanned mini-shuttle “has no crew cabin, no life support systems, and neither the Air Force nor NASA has indicated a desire to upgrade it for human spaceflight.” The size of a small school bus, it also is reusable, capable of autonomous atmospheric re-entry, and cost a classified amount of money to develop. (The Union of Concerned Scientists contrasts the plane’s high public cost to how virtually every function it could fill can be done at a lower cost utilizing existing technology.)

Many scientists and experts are not even entirely sure what it does, though they have theories: Dave Webb, chairman of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, claims the Pentagon is attempting to develop within-the-hour warhead strike capability anywhere in the world, while Brian Weeden, a former Air Force official, insists, “The laws of physics are a pretty harsh mistress and make such systems impractical and not very useful.”

Others have suggested that the X-37B is designed to dive-bomb a target and detonate an on-board nuclear device, though the device is purportedly incapable of powered re-entry and instead glides to its landing pad.

And yes, some people think that X-37B has a kinetic energy weapon called “Rods from God” which caused radiation spikes and mysterious earthquakes in a 4-state area.

OTV-3’s voyage was delayed for several months due to an accident investigation into why a Delta 4 rocket’s RL-10B-2 upper stage engine malfunctioned on October 4. Despite the delay, OTV-3 is reportedly excited about tomorrow’s deployment and is looking forward to “getting its drone on.” That’s presumptive, because we still know as little about the vehicle’s capabilities, purpose, or previously unobserved capacity for inhuman malice as we did two years ago.

And no one without a security clearance knows what’s in that launch package.

What could the mysterious X-37B be carrying? Some kind of super-advanced surveillance package? Hypersonic weaponry? Deadly high energy liquid laser beam emitters? What about a giant robotic claw?

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords, because they are now in space and can watch your every move and kill you at any time, and I am not stupid. The drones have won. Let’s hope they come equipped with empathy chips.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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