The U.S. “space plane” is in the news again. This time, a poorly researched article in Spaceflight, the journal of the British Interplanetary Society, claimed that the X-37B was likely being used to spy on the Chinese Tiangong spacecraft from a nearly matching orbit.
This claim is yet another effort to make sense of the X-37B. The Air Force is secretive about its purpose and budget, and observers have made vigorous efforts to come up with some mission that fits. The unique capability of the space plane—what makes it a “space plane” rather than a satellite or space capsule—is its ability to return to earth in a controlled manner and land on a runway.