A team of amateur astronomers have tracked down the X-37B spacecraft, launched on a 15-month clandestine mission by NASA in April ril from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This unmanned, reusable spacecraft has been developed by the US military. But why is it a secret? In 2010, an identical unmanned spacecraft returned to Earth after 7 months in orbit.
Precise objectives and cost of the program are classified, and some astronomers have speculated that it could be part of a new generation of spy satellites, or a step towards weaponizing space.
The May 22nd SpaceX launch of its Dragon capsule atop its Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station. This not only opens a new era in commercial spaceflight, it also raises new questions about what laws govern private space companies and what legal obstacles may affect future human space travel.
If commercial space carriers’ shuttling of supplies to the ISS, as with Dragon, evolves into the ferrying of astronauts and other human passengers into space, then a new set of legal issues will emerge. Space law expert Frans von der Dunk says, "
NASA may return to space after all–but not to explore, to MINE the valuable minerals that are on asteroids, in a NEW TYPE of "Gold Rush." And we may use robots to do the dirty work.
Space scientists think that robots will be the astronauts of the future. They’ll explore the universe, find and identify extraterrestrial life and even clean up space debris in the process. In the April 24th edition of the New York Times, Kenneth Chang writes: "Perhaps it will be a platinum rush that finally opens up the final frontier."