There has been a great deal of speculation over the orbital boost detected by sky watchers of the secret X-37b’s orbit. The boost that came in two stages boost the craft into orbit 17 miles higher than before. Some speculation was that this was a maneuver prior to landing the craft. However the spacecraft has only been in orbit 124 days. The craft can stay in orbit up to 270 days and I believe that it will stay in orbit near that maximum. The best guess on what these orbital maneuvers mean is that it is a test of the maneuvering system and may even relate to positioning requirements of whatever payload the X-37b is carrying.
The best analysis of the X-37b orbit has come from amateur Ted Molczan. Molczan’s analysis of the new orbit enabled him to predict that during the maneuvers, the space plane passed within range of several Air Force Satellite Control Network facilities: the Hawaii Tracking Station at Kaena Point, Oahu; Guam Tracking Station at Andersen Air Force Base; Vandenberg Tracking Station, Vandenberg AFB, California; Colorado Tracking Station, Schriever AFB in Colorado Springs; and the New Hampshire Tracking Station, New Boston Air Force Station.
Most agree that the current payload is a reconnaissance payload and that these orbital changes will benefit the payloads capability.
Of course the true nature of this black project will only be known in time but it is pretty amazing what the detective work of amateurs on the ground have added to this story.
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