The US Air Force's shadowy mini-Space Shuttle, the X-37B, spent over a year travelling around our planet. What was it doing? We don't know -- it's a secret. But now that it's finally landed, it's time to ask some questions.
Despite more or less copying the design 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 "experiments" -- 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 leading the way for the next generation of space weapons (and the next one takes off later this year). We can be sure there won't be pretty landing footage of the real weapon the X-37B births. [Danger Room]