Recently, Ralf Vandebergh, who is a satellite tracker and skywatcher based in Netherlands, caught a glimpse of X-37B space aircraft. This marked a very rare event as the aircraft is one of the most secretive projects of the Air Force of U.S. Vandebergh commented that he had been trying to hunt down the automated aircraft for months. His efforts finally paid off when he was able to track the location of the aircraft back in May. In the following one month, Vandebergh also managed to clock photographs of the said vehicle.
Explaining his course of actions, Vandebergh said that during his observation of the spacecraft in June, its path and time varied from predicted values. This was because it had shifted to a different orbit. He credited the network of amateur satellite watchers for having quickly located the aircraft. Images of the X-37B were taken on June 30, followed by some more on July 2. Its recent passes, according to Vandebergh, were all nearly overhead.
The aircraft X-37B is also called the OTV or Vehicle for Orbital Test. It resembles the retired NASA space shuttle, only a smaller version of it. The spacecraft is extremely small in spite of having an altitude of just 186 miles or 300 kilometers. As a result, the detail accuracy of ground-based photographs is not comparable to that of real space shuttles. However, the quality of the photographs has still exceeded Vandebergh’s expectations. A portion of the aircraft’s nose, tail and its payload bay have been spotted, along with signs of smaller details.
Vandebergh took the images using a Newtonian telescopemeasuring 10-inch F/4, with an 8 aperture, equipped with a mono CMOS Astrolumina ALccdcamera. The tracking was completely manual and was done via a 6×30 finderscope. It has been strongly suggested that the robotic aircraft is serving a dual purpose of both looking upward as well as down at the Earth.