The U.S. Air Force launched its mysterious, unmanned space vehicle, the X-37B, late Thursday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and it's expected to land in California, possibly at Vandenberg Air Force Base north of Santa Barbara, at an unknown time.
The baby shuttle — it's only about 28 feet long, according to the Air Force — is shrouded in mystery. Officially, Air Force officials say it could be used to support fighter missions. However, they won't say what else it can do, or what it's carrying. Some experts speculate that the reusable space vehicle, the nation's first since the 1970s-designed space shuttle, will be used as United State's first space-capable fighter in what is being described in some reports as the “weaponization of space.”
Others say the vehicle could be used as a roving satellite, able to spy on enemies then change position. Or it could take out enemy satellites and bring them back to earth (although the X-37B appears to be too small for such duty).
The vehicle can stay in space for nearly nine months at a time.
When is it coming to California? “In all honesty, we don't know when it's coming back,” Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary for the Air Force's space programs, told reporters.
To borrow a phrase from Tom Wolfe, we'd say it's quite “mysto.”