Nasa / Space

Skywatchers spot the mysterious X-37B orbital test vehicle

Satellite watchers report seeing the the X-37B space plane, an unmanned vehicle operated by the U.S. Air Force. The spacecraft's mission is a secret.

The X-37B space plane, an unmanned vehicle operated by the U.S. Air Force, launched into orbit on March 5, 2011 and was spotted by skywatchers all throughout March 2011. Officially known as the Orbital Test Vehicle 2 (OTV-2), this spacecraft's mission is a secret even though its orbital pattern is not, thanks to avid satellite watchers like Ted Molczan, who developed a basic orbital plan derived from OTV-1's flight last year.

The X-37B was built by Boeing (it looks like the NASA space shuttle, but it's only a quarter of its length) and started out as a NASA project in 1999. The X-37B was then transferred to the U.S. Department of Defense and the Air Force by 2006, where it gained its secretive nature and status. See images and specifications of the X-37B in a gallery by Fox News.

The easiest way to find the X-37B in the night sky is to visit N2YO.com's tracking page. While it's not as detailed or as accurate as some of the unclassified satellites the site is tracking, the OTV-2's location is fairly well approximated as it travels around the planet. (There are other sites that offer similar information as well, but some require registration.) You can also use a mobile app such as Satellite Flybys to try to spot the plane. OTV-2 is fairly bright in the night sky -- it's approximately +3.0 magnitude, or as bright as Eta Serpentis within the Serpens constellation.

Have you spotted OTV-2 or any other satellite or other man-made object in the sky? If so, share your story in the comments.

Photo credit of X-37B launch: Boeing

4 comments
DHOLYER
DHOLYER

I have joked about that 6 inch space between the ears for years. For some I have been making jokes about the vacuum between so ear drums, I say be careful when hitting them in the head because if you pop their ear drums, that vacuum may suck us all in.

RUSSE007
RUSSE007

Space is not our next frontier BUT our CURRENT frontier and it has been since the early days of the Mercury Project! Our FINAL frontier will be the 6 inches of space residing between our left and right ears! AKA internal space!

DHOLYER
DHOLYER

I've always been into the space program, My first birthday was the day that JFK said we will reach the moon and land and return form it before the decade is out.My brother was an Engineer at Lockheed Martian of Denver building the Orion Command capsule for the NASA Constellation program to return American and the world to the moon. This program was canned on 1/15/2009 and NASA was told to aim for Mars instead. In my view the Constellation program was designed to not only return us to the moon with in 50 years of our original landing. Building bases on the Moon also offered America to gain experience of camping in space, thus giving the explorers and educate them so they would not need to be giving the "Houston we have a problem" call when they ran out of TP or got a Hangnail. Jetting off to Mars increases the Houston we have a problem call much greater chance of happening. Sure they will have had so many tests, but tests only give you a grade score, as where experience gives you the answers first hand. Pencil and Paper will never give you more than a A, B, C, and even D's and F's. Plus going to the Moon would have been a restart of America's Industrial complex, that in my eyes has been sued to death since the first oil problem in the 70's during the Carter Years, who could now days look ok thanks to our current one. Their are many ideas on how to rescue NASA from it's current missasigned prorpose of ego boosting Arab Dictatorships. My idea is to make all money invested in NASA, and all profits returned as a non taxable item or purpose.

jpnagle59
jpnagle59

I remember, being an avid space race guy, from the 60's, finding and watching the last of the Gemini, and most of the Apollo missions as they moved across the sky. Being here in Texas- at that time the air was cleaner- no pollution to obscure the sky- and less light pollution- made for good hunting of the craft overhead. I remember going to the Hill Country, with two friends, and with their telescopes, we were able to watch 2 of the Apollo burns to exit the earths gravity to set off for the moon. It was no big old flame lighting up the night sky, but with good magnification, you good discern it. It was easier to pick out what objects also back then- there were fewer space craft orbiting around our fair planet. The Skylab was a easy site also...moving forward to the 80's, I took my boy out to the hills and we saw Hailey's comet, which I will never see again, but my son might when he is 82...we also saw the Space shuttles from time to time. I could go on and on......3, 2, 1....bast off!!!