Somewhere above earth is America’s latest spaceship, a 30ft craft so classified that the Pentagon will not divulge its mission nor how much it cost to build.

The mysterious X37B, launched successfully by the US Air Force from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, using an Atlas V rocket, looks like a mini-Space Shuttle – but its mission is top secret.

It is officially described as an orbital test vehicle. However, one of its potential uses appears to be to launch a surge of small satellites during periods of high international tension. This would enable America to have eyes and ears orbiting above any potential troublespot in the world.

The X37B can stay in orbit for up to 270 days, whereas the Shuttle can last only 16 days. This will provide the US with the ability to carry out experiments for long periods, including the testing of new laser weapon systems. This would bring accusations that the launch of X37B, and a second vehicle planned for later this year, could lead to the militarisation of space.

Read full article @ Times Online.