Top Secret U.S. Air Force X-37B Space Plane Is Caught On Camera In Orbit
An amateur astronomer and satellite tracker named Ralph Vandebergh has captured a very rare image of the secret U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane in orbit. The spacecraft is very small and difficult to find in orbit, but Vandebergh says that he had been hunting for the spacecraft in orbit for months before he finally found it in May. He snapped the fuzzy image of the X-37B seen below in June.
He used the same trajectory from his initial discovery of the spacecraft to predict where it should be in mid-June when he was ready to snap the images. The catch was that the spacecraft failed to meet the expected time and path because it had shifted to a different orbit.
Vandebergh says that a network of amateur satellite observers was able to find the X-37B in its new orbit and he was able to snap images of it on June 30 and July 2. He points out that the X-37B is a small object and was orbiting at an altitude of 186 miles above the surface, so high-resolution images weren't expected. He was surprised to see that you could make out many details of the spacecraft in the pictures that he had taken.
You can make out the nose of the spacecraft along with the payload bay, and the tail, though everything is fuzzy. The spacecraft was in an orbit with its payload bay pointing down at the surface of the Earth. The photos that he captured used a 10-inch f/4,8 aperture Newtonian telescope with an Astrolumina ALccd 5L-11 mono CMOS camera. Vandebergh tracked the spacecraft manually using a 6x30 finderscope. The current mission for the X-37B has been in orbit since 2017 marking over 650 days in orbit.