back to article US 'space warplane' may be spying on Chinese spacelab

The US Air Force's second mysterious mini-space shuttle, the X-37B, could be spying on China's space laboratory and the first piece of its space station, Tiangong-1. Amateur space trackers told the British Interplanetary Society publication Spaceflight that the black-funded spaceplane seemed to be orbiting the Earth in tandem …


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  1. JimC

    US spying on Chinese Space Station

    in other news:

    Ursids defaecate amongst trees

    "I am a catholic" claims Pope..

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Pandas ...

      ... are ursids but they live, and presumably shit, in bamboo forests. Bamboo is a grass not a tree.

      Sorry for the pedantry, it just seemed slightly appropriate.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ... or the Heavenly Palace

    Wow. The Chinese have opened a restaurant in space. The ISS crew will be wondering if they do deliveries

  3. MacGyver


    If we are so worried about them building up their military, perhaps we should stop paying them to make it.

    They use the money we pay them for their cheap labor to buy from other countries the resources they need to build up their military, surprise. Maybe all that cheap labor isn't so cheap after all, maybe we should look at it as deferred cost savings, as in, how much will it cost in the future to defend ourselves from a country with an army numbered in the billions and the same tech as we have?

    1. No, I will not fix your computer

      Defend yourself from China?

      Eh? USA is in debt to China, China is tuning their dollars into things with real value (buying land and companies, including American companies), this will only accelerate until the reserve capital of the world converts from the doallar to the yuan (which is already happening).

      What could China possibly have to gain from attacking America? More likely USA doesn't like being told not to attack countries that have allegences with China (like Pakistan).

      1. Drew V.

        Then again, maybe various countries wouldn't feel any need to ally themselves with the Chinese in the first place, if a certain superpower weren't so eagerly starting wars, forever telling other countries what to do, and saber-rattling left and right.

    2. hplasm


      But until someone decides to invest here (wherever 'here' happens to be) all we can do is still keep banging the rocks together and hope for improvement.

      1. Local Group

        "an army numbered in the billions"

        Now where did I put that white flag?

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      "If we are so worried about them building up their military, perhaps we should stop paying them to make it."

      I have rarely read anything more ignorant, stupid or ass-backwards.

  4. Chris Rowland

    From a look at the orbital elements published on the Heavens Above site the X37B and Tiangong-1 are not even visible to one another. The orbit inclination is the same but the longitudes of the ascending node for the two craft are over 100 degrees different. If the orbital periods are about the same then I think it will stay like that unless something pretty significant is done.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The BBC story yesterday stated that the orbit-time was slightly different, with a convergence every 180 orbits. Which is close enough to have a good nose at the Chinese without being too blatant.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


        180 orbits (at about 90 mins an orbit) is 1 intersection every 11 1/4 days, probably at a fairly high passing rate.

        This is not exactly real time surveillance.

        However as others have pointed out its enough to radar map the exterior (unexpected bulges photoshopped out of the official pictures), perhaps some signals intelligence (if the Chinese haven't switched any special equipment off)

        And of of course for the *really* paranoid a quick check to see if its not carrying an orbital nuclear device of some kind (I didn't say bomb, no one is saying bomb, just something whose ingredients might glow in the dark a bit).

  5. forger


    Does it land on an Iranian runway????

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If they ask it nicely.

  6. JeffyPooh

    Having roughly the same orbital inclination (or not) would be the clue

    The orbiting target and sensor need to share a similar orbital inclination. Otherwise the two space gadgets will do nothing more than streak past each other at thousands of km per hour delta V. If the distance gap is low, then the angular rate of change will be high. It's just a silly suggestion.

  7. Silverburn
    Black Helicopters

    Just goes to show...

    ....the more you try to make something black, the more light gets shone apon it. It's probably the world most unsecret secret space plane.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward's not really black....

      The fact that we know a little about it makes it a bit grey; truly black projects are unacknowledged by everyone involved.

      They've chosen to tell us a little about this for a reason, maybe because it has an unusual orbit and would have been spotted anyway.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Would have"? Already has been, chap!

        Read the first couple of paragraphs again.

        "Amateur space trackers told the British Interplanetary Society publication Spaceflight that the black-funded spaceplane seemed to be orbiting the Earth"

        The clue was in the words.

        1. Annihilator Silver badge
          Thumb Down


          "Read the first couple of paragraphs again"

          Try reading everything. "would have" as in "they would have seen it without being told about it, so let's tell them about it first". No-one's saying they haven't found it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            It's *already* been spotted and tracked by keen amateurs on Earth on numerous occasions. There's even an App for it.

            It's not particularly stealthy as regards ground observation, unlike some of the MISTY stuff and various other toys in the NRO toybox. It's pretty irregular for orbital details of any shady kit to be announced, or confirmed by official sources.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          My point was not so much that this thing has been spotted (as you say the article stated that) but rather that the reason for lifting the veil slightly on this COULD have been the unusual orbit.

          Spy satellites are launched fairly regularly without much fanfare; this is a bit more unusual, and it's the unusual which sometimes attract attention.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    the chinese should just make up dumb stories about secret projects in space etc etc. The US will spend gazzillions to try to see whats going on. Everyone will have a laugh.+CIA spaceplane budget remains intact during cutbacks. Less filthy than the usual starting a war for no reason.

    1. Tchou

      On an unrelated note, a Chinese deep space ship is spying on the American spying shuttle.

      In a recent meeting, the ministries of defense of both countries were congratulating each others, and said "more stuff to come", at the great pleasure of representatives of the armament industry. Soon after, second hand ministries like education, health, ect... were announcing severe budget cuts, and a bank financial crisis du to corruption and bad management was subtly turned into a State payment fault into some never-heard-of countries across Europe, wich resulted in massive cash backs for banks disguised in "ok-let's-erase-a-100-billions-aren't-we-nice?" operation; wich in turn heavily finance the armament industry.

      Or maybe it's just me.

    2. No, I will not fix your computer

      Careful with that game....

      If you're a dictator and you pretend to have weapons of mass destruction, at some point they'll believe you and call your bluff, if you then say "OK, don't really have any" then they may just invade and not find any, anyway.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @I will not...

        Ridiculous. Who would be silly enough to go to war on that basis? Particularly when they had just made a hash of a more important war and should be concentrating on that. Next you'll be saying the British would join in BOTH wars for NO OBVIOUS OR SENSIBLE REASON! What sort of world do you think we're living in?

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "the chinese should just make up dumb stories about secret projects in space etc etc. The US will spend gazzillions to try to see whats going on. "

      Worked out fine when the Russians did it in the early 50's with the "Nuclear powered bomber" scam.

      Worked out pretty well for the US with SDI in the 80's.

      No reason it shouldn't work for the Chinese in the 10's.

      A (paranoid) fool and their money are easily parted....

      1. Aitor 1 Silver badge


        They DID have the bomber. It was deadly to operate.. but...

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If it's not well shielded against leakage, and the CIA toy is appropriately equipped, you could gather all kinds of ELINT, and basically figure out fairly precisely what the Chinese station is doing and what electronic packages are active on board. cf TEMPEST.

  10. Stratman

    Maybe the Chinese are spying on Fireball XL5 or whatever it's called.

  11. benzaholic

    "something else," huh?

    I like that "something else" theory.

    It also provides for the least animosity between China and the US. We're simply both curious about a shared experience.

    Then again, with FatsBrannigan's comment, maybe we're trying to see if the aliens prefer Sweet and Sour Chicken or a Big Mac.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    one problem

    the issue is, after you spy on a Chinese orbital fortress, an hour later you wanna do it again....

  13. SJRulez

    Tail gating

    Lol, the Americans are just trying to see how close they can tail gate before the chinese turn arround and zap them with a laser beam or crazy neutron canon.

  14. All names Taken

    The real time to worry is ...

    ... when secret (ish) Chinese space thingy and secret (ish) US space thingy co-operate to do a jimmy-jiggler in the outer bounds of space.

    The real time to incredibly worry is ...

    ... when secret (ish) Chinese space thingy and secret (ish) US space thingy and the (almost) secret (ish) European space thingy co-operate to do a jimmy-jiggler in the outer bounds of space.

    The time to sell shares, stocks and investments:

    ... when secret (ish) Chinese space thingy and secret (ish) Iranian space thingy and the (almost) secret (ish) Israeli space thingy co-operate to do a jimmy-jiggler in the outer bounds of space.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Still, the US is hugely suspicious of China's space endeavours, so it's more than possible that they'd want to get a look at Tiangong-1 just in case it's doing anything unexpected."

    Roughly how the space race started... Though last time round, the US actually did something to compete, instead of getting all jealous and spying.

    Love the US way of life - no-one can go into space except us! Oh and Russia, PS can we get a lift? No-one is allowed nuclear weapons except us! Y'all can't be trusted y'see. Land of the free, except if there's a glimmer of suspicious of terrorism but not enough to charge - I wonder if Shaker Aamer will ever be released from his 10 years of 'questioning' without charge...

    1. Local Group

      Old Chinese Proverb

      Don't judge a space station by its cover.

      The only thing Tiangong is doing on it's outside, is loading cream pies on a catapult to hurl at in-your-face spy satellites.

  16. Beachrider

    I suppose, if the ESA had a budget...

    So the role of X37 has changed from satellite capture to satellite observation. Whew! what a relief. Perhaps someday the ESA will have something up in the air so that Chinese blogs can conjecture about that!

  17. Kharkov
    Big Brother

    The ESA does have a budget...

    And it's big enough to buy 1 lollipop a month...

    And the X-37 observing Tiangong-1? 1st, I don't believe it's doing that and 2nd, what an expensive, overly-complicated way of doing it anyway.

  18. Internetman
    Black Helicopters

    Are they sure the perceived spacecraft is American? It could be SPECTRE trying to incite a war...

  19. Drew V.
    Mushroom might say that, as a species, we have pretty much given up on civilian shuttles now, only to - in all probability - replace them with an armada of military shuttles so we can take our international squabbling and nationalistic dick-measuring one step further into outer space?

    Depressing to realize that human progress still keeps on marching off in the worst possible direction.

    1. Kharkov

      A little from Column A, a little from Column B...

      I don't know about ' a species...'

      The English company REL is making slow but steady progress on Skylon, an SSTO vehicle that promises VERY low cost-to-orbit per kg, due to enter service in 2020 or 2021.

      The Americans don't seem to be heading down the 'armada' route but they do seem to have lost all their joined-up thinking when it comes to space and getting there.

      Just think, education gets less that 5% of the Federal Budget but Defence (up to 48 Army Brigades, 11 Navy Carriers & over 50 Air Wings, many of which are administrative, but still...) gets the lions share of the budget.

      At least until about 2020 when interest repayments on the National Debt may well take the No.1 spot...

      1. lIsRT

        Isn't most education paid from the state budgets?

  20. Mr Young
    Thumb Up

    I want an X-37B!

    Don't know why really - it probably costs a fortune to run! Maybe an SR-71 instead? must check Ebay

  21. All names Taken

    ESA? ESA did you say?

    It is saving everyone a fortune.

    By delaying decisions and not doing stuff as it expected it would millions of euros if not billions have been saved.

    Who said procrastination cost money?

    Was it the sales rep?

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