The U.S. military’s secret space plane, a robotic demonstrator version of a next-generation space shuttle, has been spotted by astronomers. It flashed. SpaceWeather.com got the story.
The US Air Force's X-37B space plane is circling Earth and, although it is on a classified mission with an officially unpublished orbit, sky watchers have spotted it. "I saw the X-37B from my home in Pasadena, California, around sunrise on March 31st," reports Anthony Cook of the Griffith Observatory. "The spacecraft's appearance was remarkable. When overhead it was a little brighter than a 2nd magnitude star with a slight yellow hue. Then it flared. As the X-37B moved toward the horizon it became silvery and brightened to around magnitude -6, far outshining Venus below it." The flare was presumably caused by sunlight glinting from some flat surface on the shuttle-shaped spacecraft, but no one can say for sure because it is a classified mission.
So, speculate all you like. It's classified.
Image: Orbital Test Vehicle-1, sister ship to the one now in orbit, returns from the first flight in the X-37B test program under cover of darkness on Dec. 3, 2010. Credit: U.S. Air Force