back to article Secret X-37B space plane lost by sat-spotters for 2 weeks

The United States' X-37B robot mini-shuttle spaceplane, which was launched into orbit on a classified mission in April, has changed its orbit. However the "secret space warplane" - as the X-37B has been dubbed by the Iranian government - has now been re-acquired by alert amateur skywatchers. The X-37B unmanned spaceplane being …


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  1. thedweeb
    Paris Hilton


    The same carrying capacity as a large bed? Now we know why it went missing. If the spaceplane's rockin, don't come knockin...

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Another reason for The Register to drop Playmobil and do a Lego Space re-enactment of this mission.

    2. Andus McCoatover


      Icon says it all...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Sky watchers

    Whilst I certainly applaud the efforts of the folk that keep an eye on all the various black ops stuff that America and our own countries participate in I do sometimes wonder whether the information they supply to joe public is as dangerous to us all, allow me to clarify:

    No doubt a government such as Iran or South Korea have their own methods for tracking spy sats and the rest but what about those terrorist groups that operate on a shoe string style budget going for low-tech style approaches, if they can just do a web search and find out when spy sats will be in the general vicinity it provides them the information they need to possibly conduct nefarious acts without fear of observation, (I suppose that’s why predators are such a useful tool these days?).

    Perhaps I am a bit naive in my view but sometimes I feel that black-ops should stay that way because whilst I don't trust my government completely they are doing a good job on protecting a majority* of the population.

    *Note the use of the word majority here..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Funding crisis...

      Hobbiests defeat Black ops? Then the black is not black enough. So either spend more or scrap it...

      I doubt in this case there is an issue, as this is merely a test bed. More 37B's are on order and soon total coverage will ensure there are no holes, and therefore no problems with knowing they are there.

    2. Ru
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Sky Watchers

      "I do sometimes wonder whether the information they supply to joe public is as dangerous to us all"

      And rightly so. May I be so bold as to suggest that widely read publications (such as the Reg) are also being thoughtless (at best!) when they give additional publicity to these amateur spies. What is needed is some sort of central bureau through which all published information (such as news articles or blog posts) must pass. Only articles which have been deemed to be free of this sort of sensitive information would be allowed to be published. This means there's no danger of anyone even inadvertently broadcasting information that they might not have known was top secret!

      Or, you know, if a handful of amateurs with fairly simple astronomical equipment can see what this spacecraft is doing, then you can be absolutely and totally guaranteed that any national government that cared about such things could afford to employ a few people with high quality equipment full time to do much more thorough sky surveys without even the hassle of needing any foreign intelligence operations.

      If even we know about it, and it were intended to be totally secret, then our governments have screwed up to such a massive degree that they probably aren't doing a very good job of protecting anything.

  3. Nada
    Black Helicopters

    Lost for 2 weeks?

    Looks like the new cloaking device is working nicely...

    1. Anonymous Coward


      beat me too it...

      I for one welcome our Klingon/Romulan cloak-wielding overlords...

      1. John 62

        the breen

        were rumored to have cloaking abilities as well.

        It was a shame that the scale of the Dominion War vastly outstripped the budget of DS9. I thoroughly enjoyed the final seasons with Legate Damar episodes. (Kai Winn was a bit annoying, though)

  4. frank ly

    Clarification Please?

    "... America and our own countries .."

    I know where America (USA) is, but where are these 'our own countries'?

    "... a government such as Iran or South Korea .." Ah yes, that axis of evil, supported at one end by the satanic roller bearing which is South Korea.

    1. Marcelo Rodrigues

      Pedant mode ON

      America is a continent. In fact, we have 3 of them: North, South and Central. Please, please, please: don't throw all the americans with the people born in the USA.

      I'm brazilian, hence South American. One could say I'm american too. But I am NOT from the USA.

      And Buenos Aires is locate in Argentina - not Brazil! :D

      1. Mr Spoon

        @Marcelo Rodrigues

        Unfortunately, while I take your point, American does mean 'of the United States', as well as meaning 'of one of the American continents'.;jsessionid=1BE8C8FD0B0C8BDD59995335D8E0842E#m_en_gb0023560

      2. frank ly
        Thumb Up

        It's OK Marcelo

        When I said "I know where America (USA) is...", that was to indicate my assumption that by 'America', the original poster meant the USA.

        You are right to be concerned Marcelo, but please be reassured that most people (I hope) are aware of the geo-political realities of North/Central/South America.

        I even knew that Buenos Aires is in Argentina. :) (Brazil has Rio De Janeiro of course, but you knew that already.)

      3. Bryce Prewitt

        Well now, that's amusing.

        Latin America isn't a continent.

        1. Daniel B.

          Learn your geography

          There are 5 continents (six, if you count Antartica) in the world, which explains why there are 5 rings in the Olympics logo.






          Anything smaller is usually referred as regions or "subcontinents". Like North America, Eastern Europe, Central Asia...

          Unfortunately, the USA chose to have a really long name, and "UnitedStatesian" sounds too long & ugly, so they took the "American" moniker for themselves. The perversion of this causes the Monroe Doctrine "America for the Americans" even more funny; its original intent was that the Triple Entente didn't interfere with the new American countries, the double entendre has been that the US wanted to take over the entire American continent.

          1. Nexox Enigma


            """There are 5 continents (six, if you count Antartica) in the world"""

            So North and South America are the same continent (vastly different tectonic places there) but Asia and Europe are separate?

            I've talked to people from around the world, and they teach all sorts of different things in different places with regard to continents - why can't everyone just go with the geological definition of content?

            In any case, you can't call someone from the USA a "UnitedStatesian" because Mexico (for instance, there are probably others) is also a United States - Estados Unidos de Mexico, or something to that effect.

            So basically, if you're from the USA, you can't make generalizations about yourself or your country without either A) offending everyone from nearby countries / continents or B) wasting a good 30 syllables at each go round.

            Of course the others have various nice short terms for us - generally whatever the local translation for 'jackass' is.

            1. Rattus Rattus

              Short & simple name for USAnians -

              I've always just used "Seppo."

              1. Andus McCoatover

                Seppo? No way, José

                Means (skilled) smith in Finnish. Like "Kultaseppo" - goldsmith. Nah, Rattus, let's not go that far..

                (Seppo is also my girlfriend's brother's name).

                Gives the USAnians too good a name.

                "Sianpaskaa" might be better..


                1. Rinsey


                  Means septic.

                  Septic Tank


            2. Robert E A Harvey

              rhyming slang

              I had to explain rhyming slang to some USAnian crewmates who wondered why they were called 'septics', and they then started to call themselves 'Shermans'.

              Mine's the one with the silver star.

          2. me n u

            Moron alert!

            THERE ARE 7 CONTINENTS! What planet did just arrive from? Can't find your space ship?

            The continents are:

            1) North America

            2) South America

            3) Asia

            4) Europe

            5) Africa

            6) Antartica

            7) Australia

            Note the absence of "Central" America! (which is part of North America!)

            UNLESS: If you were taught in Europe, then you may believe there are 6 continents, with all of the Americas treated as one.

            And don't even think of trying to combine Europe and Asia as one continent!

            1. Anonymous Coward

              @Me N U

              They teach 7 continents here in UK corner of Europe. I'm not sure where Daniel B is from but I think your Title might be more likely to be the reason he thinks there are 6 rather than his education.

              BTW MeNU is the name of my local chinese takaway..

      4. Blue eyed boy

        Marcelo I know the feeling

        I'm from South Wales so I'm not English, although I am British and a UK citizen. They tend to lump the whole UK together as E*****d, though in fact the nearest point of E*****d is 28 miles away by road, 12 miles away by sea.

        1. EvilGav 1

          Quite Correct

          The terminology for the whole of the mainland portion of the United Kingdom (or Great Britain) has always been England, it is a known and notified name that no-one of learning had any problem with.

          That all changed in the 1930's(ish) when the Scottish National Party decided to complain about it.

          It's all very silly, but a great way to wind up different groups of people, for example :

          - the Irish (as in those from Eire) are actual also British, as Eire is one of the British Isles

          - the Scots are British, but also English after a long-held historical naming convention (as above)

          - the Cornish are also English

          - the Manx are also British

          and so on . . .

          1. skellious

            Gah! No!

            I'm from England, but I hate the whole of the UK being called England as much as anyone else. I'm British, the Welsh and the Scots are British, the Irish are Irish, the Manx are Manx (Manx is NOT part of the UK!!)

            And we are all European - but I bet you less than one person in ten here would admit to it! In the UK, "Europe" or "the continent" refers to everything EAST of the UK in most people's minds.

            To weigh in on another matter, there are 7 continents;

            North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, Australasia, Antarctica. (please note, AustralASia) This is important! (incorrect, but important because it's how it was taught to us!)

            Going back to the origional subject; "a large bed" ... what size is this in standard REG UNITS??? the Reg needs to be consistant with their measurements or we will only get confused!

        2. Anonymous Coward

          what is the adjective for "UK citizen"....

          Britain = UK minus NI.

          British Isles = UK + Republic of Ireland

          British = of UK, Britian or Republic Of Ireland depending on when news is good or bad on BBC

          No adjective for "of UK" it seems

          ps if you want to be really pedantic, look at the BBC reports from Northern Ireland - a catholic will call it Derry, a protestant Londonderry.

          One recent suggestion was to call it Derry / Londonderry - nickname became Slash City!

      5. Keith Wingate

        A Gringo, by any other name

        It gets worse. 'not sure how you try to resolve this in Portuguese, but Spaniards refer to us (yanks) as "norteamericanos", as a point of distinction -- this only leaves our neighbors in Canada, Mexico, etc. to feel offended.

        I believe it was Frank Lloyd Wright (a gabacho / giri / gringo / yank himself) who coined the term "Usonian", which I personally rather like, but other than Frank & I it never seemed to get much traction.

        Of course, since "y'all" speak a language with no real 2nd person plural pronoun, we may simply favor ambiguity.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          second person singular should be You IS but some grammarian decided they didn't like it. At least that's what I read.

      6. me n u

        Learn some beginners geography

        There are 7 continents, and Central America is NOT one of them!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shuttle polar orbit

    The reason the Shuttle never flew out of Vandenberg was because Challenger exploded.

    The Air Force had already been getting cold feet over the Shuttle's poor record of getting into space on schedule, Challenger was the final nail in the coffin.

    As you said, polar orbits required extra oomph! to get into space; the USAF would have required ultra-light SRBs to make this possible. These would have been even more prone to joint failure than those used on Challenger, so there was no way the programme could continue. Instead the USAF went back to Titan IV rockets which came with their own set of problems:

    Of course, if the USAF hadn't insisted on cross-range capability for the Shuttle, then NASA could have had a simpler, lighter, less fragile machine to do their work and the manned space programme probably wouldn't be in the mess it is now.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Good reason..

      To move away from NASA and more towards Comercial Launch Companies who can do it right without 'other' departments interferring...

      NASA for the science, Comercial for the business.


  6. Dan 10

    Secret spaceplane... arse! Look at the pic again, quite obvious the entire thing is housed in a Lego shell...

  7. Craig 28

    Re:South Korea

    Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't it North Korea we're worried about?

    All this said I understand the concern, while I'm sure certain countries have a way of keeping track of things in orbit we don't need to make things easier for them.

    I believe the "our own countries" was meant as friendly countries incidentally. Of course it's debatable just how friendly the US has been in recent years. Sending a bloody spy plane mission over Britain grumble grumble.

  8. Bryn Evans

    Countdown to PARIS Mission 1

    Now you have a clearly defined Mission for the first flight of PARIS,

    looking out for passing Sky Spy Shuttles - Make sure you have well

    hidden copies of all the video before the Black Hellish Copters land.

  9. Eke
    Dead Vulture

    Two weeks?

    So, according to your own article, it could have landed and relaunched?

    1. Anonymous John

      It could, but it didn't.

      It wouldn't have possible to launch it unnoticed. And I very much doubt if it could land secretly either

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        Anonymous John

        "It wouldn't have possible to launch it unnoticed. And I very much doubt if it could land secretly either"

        Regarding the launch probably not (Atlas V is pretty big with a lot infrastructure needed) however landing is a different matter. It's not *that* big and there are a number of long runways in the US which might be suitable.

        Sticking it on another Atlas V afterward would be difficult.

  10. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    What a waste,

    that NASA is worrying over even having the capability of getting anyone into orbit due to the shuttles being retired -- and the Air Force is getting a fleet of shuttles, but the usage of them in secret. I wonder if these X-37Bs are more modern (cheaper and easier to prep for relaunch mainly) compared to the shuttle?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Henry Wertz 1

      "I wonder if these X-37Bs are more modern"

      Well the Space Transportation System design does date from roughly the mid 70s. There have been a few improvements since then.

      "(cheaper and easier to prep for relaunch mainly) compared to the shuttle?"

      Easier to prep almost certainly (A too stage liquid fueled rocket is essentially 4 *very* large empty tanks. Fragile, but *nowhere* near the hazard of the 2 SRBs)

      Note what it *can't* do.

      Not crew rated.

      LV *not* crew rated (Load safety factors of 1.25, rather than 1.4 of crew rated)

      Payload bay size of a pickup truck, not a Greyhound bus (c14'x65' with a capacity of c55Klbs)

      Replaces *highly* toxic hypergolics of Shuttle as Peroxide/kerosene engines (dating form mid 50s) were not included.

      Recover *any* of its launch vehicle.

      A launch *should* be more straightforward but the price may not be as cheap as you think (and given the *massive* reduction in payload as little as people would *expect*)

      It is an interesting vehicle.

  11. Ascylto
    Big Brother

    Wrong again

    This is plainly Apple's new 1Phone 4.5 in testing mode.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Gotta love those pendants

    Sheesh talk about going off-topic with your responses..

    Ok to clarify a number of my points:

    "America and our own countries" perhaps should have been "America and other western democratic societies"

    "a government like Iran or South Korea" these were examples of countries/governments who are opposed to the west and if you are naive to think they aren't then I suggest we air-drop you in to Iran so that you can go and give them all a nice good hug, idjit.

    Essentially I was just suggesting that whilst people like to expose what our governments (again this means the west) are doing sometimes I question if its dangerous.

    PS: for that numpty who didn't know what a seppo is its the shortened version of Septic Tank which is the rhyming slang for Yank aka American (yes that is just US of A not all the rest of the North American landmass)

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Ok yeah sorry meant Nth Korea not South ...

    2. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      quite all right

      we "seppos" have our own less-than-complimentary nicknames for you lot, too. We just have the common decency to not use them in public fora such as this.

      Contrary to popular belief, not all of us Yanks are paranoid Bushites who wish to meddle in everyone's business, see "terrorists" around every corner, and use that "threat" as an excuse to squash civil liberties.

      It would be quite lovely if some of you USA-bashers took this into consideration. It was the founding fathers of what is now known as the USA who borrowed your brilliant idea of Magna Carta and took it to the "next level."

      True enough, along the way there have been mis-steps and, like EVERY nation, there are occasionally idiots in charge. That being said, I dare you to identify a more staunch ally to Britain than the USA in the last 200ish years. We are, like it or not, very close cousins - sharing more than just a (somewhat) common language.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        @quite all right

        Well the origins of seppo are not that derogatory as you are claiming in your post and that is the context with which it is used here so am unsure why you would take offence as its just slang?

        "Limey's" was the typical retort used by the Americans in the fashion of what we call banter and being that I am an Australian I prefer to call the Brits Pom's anyway.

        Anyway finished with my soap-box on this, so will leave you with "lighten up seppo!"

        1. Bilgepipe


          "Well the origins of seppo are not that derogatory as you are claiming in your post and that is the context with which it is used here so am unsure why you would take offence as its just slang?"

          You're saying calling a nation of people "septic tanks" *isn't* derogatory? Huh....

          1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

            Re: Huh?

            If you mean it as an insult, it's an insult. If you slyly use it as an insult and then claim you're just being affectionate or play the ignorance card, it's a worse insult.

            Can you stop it with the 'septic' stuff, then? Maybe? That'd be lovely. Just try, like, growing up instead.

            1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

              Re: Re: Huh?

              That's to all of you.

    3. IM O. VERDER

      Rhyming slang

      And the rhyming slang for Brit would be ... People the globe over have been calling Brits that for hundreds of years. Don't believe me? Ask the Africans, or the Asians, or the Americans, or other Europeans, or Native Oceanians (sic).

  13. streaky


    The question is really why it's a secret, in the current times it's probably more likely just to protect the commercial value of various aspects rather than because it's doing something secret.

    Everybody pretty much knows what this spacecraft is for and it's nothing particularly nefarious or that needs to be kept secret.

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