The X-37B, a space plane developed by Boeing, has aroused the curiosity of scientists and the military alike. Will this Orbital Test Vehicle be a scientific tool or a possible space weapon?

The X-37B: a space drone with multiple missions

This space robot, propelled into space by a launch vehicle and capable of landing as a space vehicle, has recently achieved a total of 908 days in orbit on a mission from 2020 to 2022.

Starting as a NASA project, the X-37B has been primarily an exploratory science mission to study the details and limitations of space flight.

However, as the technology matured, the Pentagon became more involved in its development, and it now functions as a space drone capable of carrying out surveillance tasks, collecting data from beyond Earth’s atmosphere, and potentially adapting to an armed military platform.

Researchers have used the X-37 to conduct experiments with solar power and “reusable” space technologies capable of carrying out a wider range of missions than a missile interceptor of any kind.

The military applications of the X-37B

Given recent breakthroughs in autonomous systems, AI data collecting and analysis, and cross-domain networking, the prospects for such development in military contexts appear boundless.

The unmanned spacecraft would be networked with the satellites as a mobile “node” beyond Earth’s atmosphere in a “meshed” system to perform surveillance, defend against ICBM and hypersonic missiles, and even launch offensive strikes if they were to be Directed by a human.

For security reasons, hard data on the test missions and military capabilities of the X-37B may not be available. However, considering the duration of its last flight, it is inevitable to wonder about its lethal potential and ability to carry out military missions.

X-37B

The X-37B and the defense of satellite assets

Protecting satellite assets against adversary ASAT or anti-satellite weapons is one possible use for a future version of the X-37B.

 Furthermore, if carried out ethically and consistently with Pentagon doctrine on using deadly force, the X-37B could destroy enemy satellites or targets from attack sites outside Earth’s atmosphere.

This prospect may seem alarming, and the United States has been reluctant to militarize space, viewing it instead as a multinational sanctuary.

The militarization of space by other countries

However, due to Russian and Chinese efforts to militarise space, the United States now finds itself well behind, necessitating a response from the Pentagon in the form of the creation of a US Space Force and the subsequent training of its personnel to defend the United States from outer space should the need ever arise.

These technological advances raise questions about how future military missions in space will be carried out and how international rules will be established to avoid conflicts in space.

An uncertain future for the X-37B

In short, the X-37B, a spacecraft initially developed for scientific purposes, has proven its ability to adapt to military missions.

Although its lethal potential and use on the battlefield are still the subject of speculation, its evolution and success in orbit raise important questions about the future of the militarization of space and the need for international rules and regulations to avoid conflicts in this new terrain.