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US 'Space Warplane' Spying On Chinese Spacelab

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the it-is-now-the-future dept.

China 158

PolygamousRanchKid sends this excerpt from El Reg: "The U.S. Air Force's second mysterious mini-space shuttle, the X-37B, could be spying on China's space laboratory and the first piece of its space station, Tiangong-1. Amateur space trackers told the British Interplanetary Society publication Spaceflight that the black-funded spaceplane seemed to be orbiting the Earth in tandem with Tiangong-1, or the Heavenly Palace, leading the magazine to speculate that its unknown mission is to spy on [the lab]. ... The lab is unmanned for the moment, so all there'd be to study is the technology of the craft and what experiments it's doing. Still, the U.S. is hugely suspicious of China's space endeavors, so it's more than possible that they'd want to get a look at Tiangong-1 just in case it's doing anything unexpected." Update: 01/06 21:50 GMT by S : Further calculations have shown that this is not the case after all.

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Could be? Could be? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610282)

Of course it is, and that's exactly what everybody expects.

But wait...why would you spy on the spy bot, you know what it's doing...or do you?

Have I said too much?

Re:Could be? Could be? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610582)

Go fuck yourself. Moron.

Space Warplane? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610318)

The X-37B is no more a "warplane" than the SR-71 or U-2.

Re:Space Warplane? (1)

tmosley (996283) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610436)

And you know this HOW exactly? They could put anything into that cargo bay.

Re:Space Warplane? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610858)

By that logic is Tiangong 1 also an orbital weapon platform?

Re:Space Warplane? (2)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611178)

By that logic is Tiangong 1 also an orbital weapon platform?

Each modular the Chinese launch will mysteriously disappear as the ISS mysteriously gains a new one...

Re:Space Warplane? (4, Funny)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610556)

Load photon torpedoes, standby phasers.

Re:Space Warplane? (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611002)

With current american space technology, what would be more like "loading the shark into the trebuchet, mates!"

Re:Space Warplane? (4, Funny)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611112)

As long as the shark has a laser, we're good!

Re:Space Warplane? (2, Informative)

x6060 (672364) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611322)

Well our technology already in space tends to be older because what the rest of the world is doing now we did 40 years ago.

Re:Space Warplane? (4, Funny)

powerlord (28156) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611150)

At least finish the full quote:

"Oh bother said Pooh. Load photon torpedoes. Lock phasers on the Hephalump. Piglet, meet me in Transporter room 1." :P

Re:Space Warplane? (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611338)

Nice.

Re:Space Warplane? (5, Informative)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610634)

It is in the eyes of the Iranian media. Wait, the summary didn't mention that that was were that term was taken from? Huh, funny. Almost like the summary is trying to be sensationalist or something. It also didn't mention the X-37B was in that exact orbit before the Chinese launched their laboratory? And that they are not in "tandem", they only get close every 170 orbits? Yeah, the X-37B is definitely still there to spy on the Chinese. Only possible explanation.

Re:Space Warplane? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610924)

Well Baloroth, seeing all that has been done (and undone) with technology, and bearing in mind the state(s) of fear you live in, you have to submit to the notion that if they can, they will. The human heart,like water, always flows to the lowest depths.

Don't dismiss this very valid possibility just because the messenger is (as you believe) is sensasionalist.

Re:Space Warplane? (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610638)

Have you listed to any U-2 Songs? I'd call that munitions.

Why would we spy on the SpaceRab? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610322)

Is it spying on Tian-dong-1? I rearry don't think so. I think the fact that their orbits intersect every now and again - that's just a coincidence. If the US really wanted to observe Tian-dong, it has enough assets to do that without using X-37B.

Tian-dong-1 and the second X-37B both spotted something else in space and went to have a look at it. This is the real story here. 2012 will be the end of us all.

two birds looking at same targets. (0)

frith01 (1118539) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610392)

Actually, they are probably both in viable orbits to keep an eye on Iran / Afghanistan. Iran doesnt have the range on their ballistic missiles to hit the US yet, but they can sure hit china easy enough.

Re:two birds looking at same targets. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611170)

Iran and China are buddy/buddy when it comes to trading partners. It would be impossible with the way international affairs are that Iran would do anything to the Middle Kingdom.

Doubt that is the case.

Re:Why would we spy on the SpaceRab? (4, Informative)

Evil.Bonsai (1205202) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610480)

I just checked heavens-above and they don't really seem to be all that close. Orbits are SIMILAR but not all that close.

Re:Why would we spy on the SpaceRab? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610560)

X37b isn't anywhere close to being in the same orbit as the Tiandong-1. It is much, much closer to the ISS orbit, though.

The only hanky-panky the X37b might be up to involving any space station these days would be testing out docking capabilities with the ISS.

Re:Why would we spy on the SpaceRab? (0, Redundant)

LordLimecat (1103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610668)

How is this not flamebait / trolling? Or do we now allow 8th-grade name calling to be modded interesting?

Re:Why would we spy on the SpaceRab? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610714)

"SpaceRab": A Scottish astronaut.

Re:Why would we spy on the SpaceRab? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611108)

You must be new around here. You can have the best thought out, most factual based posting in a story and get modded down if you're not hip to the group think and you can caw on childish insults and obscenities and get modded insightful as long as you side with the right people.
 
Slashdot is not an honest forum for free thought. It's a rallying point for fanboys.

Makes sense... space is the ultimate high ground (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610324)

Anyone who has read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Heinlein knows that being able to own space means an unparalleled strategic advantage.

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (3, Interesting)

taiwanjohn (103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610460)

The operative word here is "ground", and even that is not much use without a suitable energy source. In Heinlein's book, the earth is pummeled by "cargo" loads of moon rocks launched from a giant rail-gun on the moon. There would be little advantage in "pre-launching" a space station full of ordnance over the more traditional method of using ICBMs for delivery. Unlike an airplane, you can't just "drop" a bomb from a space station.

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610616)

Unlike an airplane, you can't just "drop" a bomb from a space station.

Actually, you can, though getting accuracy would be harder. From LEO, high surface-area/mass objects can deorbit within a couple orbits or so, so you can put a "parachute" (probably a mylar balloon) on your rods-from-god, then cut it loose when they're on the right trajectory.

And a big benefit of on-orbit munitions is that they may have a good chance of surviving a first strike in a nuclear war, thus preserving MAD even in the face of (hypothetical) MAD-busting ICBM-specific interception tech. This is why they were a big topic back in the cold war era. Without that need, it's true they're much less useful.

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (1)

EvilBudMan (588716) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610914)

I agree with what you say somewhat but one nuclear space weapon would take the whole thing out. So it doesn't seem like a threat to us, but hey the Chinese need to get ready to police the world now that we no longer can due to corporate welfare. Let them waste some time and money doing that AFAIC.

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (4, Insightful)

powerlord (28156) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611074)

I agree with what you say somewhat but one nuclear space weapon would take the whole thing out. So it doesn't seem like a threat to us, but hey the Chinese need to get ready to police the world now that we no longer can due to corporate welfare. Let them waste some time and money doing that AFAIC.

If you think the Chinese mentality is to Police the world, then I'm afraid you are in for a rude awakening.

Conquer (militarily, culturally, monetarily), is more in line with the predominant cultural beliefs than police.

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (4, Informative)

jpapon (1877296) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611208)

Conquer (militarily, culturally, monetarily), is more in line with the predominant cultural beliefs than police.

Umm, isn't that exactly what the USA has done since WW2? The cultural and economic conquest of the world by the US is pretty obvious. Militarily is only slightly less obvious when one observes the plethora of American military bases around the world and the 11? floating armadas which are incredibly powerful mobile military bases.

Besides, if you can police something, doesn't that sort of imply that you've already conquered it?

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611354)

Conquer (militarily, culturally, monetarily), is more in line with the predominant cultural beliefs than police.

Military: U.S. military bases span the globe.

Culture: McDonald's, KFC, blue jeans and Hollywood are everywhere.

Money: International transactions and currency reserves are largely held in U.S. dollars.

Just food for thought.

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (3, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611656)

From LEO, high surface-area/mass objects can deorbit within a couple orbits or so

A couple of orbits or so along a predictable trajectory is a lot easier to shoot down than a low-altitude cruise missile. It might make sense to put something like a massive laser in space, but getting it into the right orbit for a strike and providing it with enough power to punch through the atmosphere and do more than give people on the ground a mild sunburn would be nontrivial.

And a big benefit of on-orbit munitions is that they may have a good chance of surviving a first strike in a nuclear war

Not really. Both the USA and China have tested ground-to-space missiles for shooting down satellites and laser systems that can disable or destroy satellites from the ground. Creating an orbital weapons platform that can survive missile and laser strikes from the ground would be a massive engineering challenge. In any modern nuclear first strike scenario, these things would be the first to be launched, because you want to destroy the enemy's ability to track your launches.

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (4, Interesting)

EvilBudMan (588716) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610854)

Actually, if you could gain even one second over your enemy there would be a reason. If it's in LEO then one of those things loaded up with tungsten rods would have a devastating conventional attack with just a slight push in the right direction. Kinetic energy weapons would work like that. Nukes, I don't see why they would really do that and either way it's not something that has to be manned.

I would also say that bringing foreign countries satellites back for inspection was why Nixon went with the shuttle which could never go high enough to fulfill that mission but now the Air Force has a relatively cheap space plane that could do that and bring it back. On a coolness scale from 1 to 10 it's an 11.

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (2)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610966)

There would be little advantage in "pre-launching" a space station full of ordnance over the more traditional method of using ICBMs for delivery. Unlike an airplane, you can't just "drop" a bomb from a space station.

Actually you can, for sufficiently large definitions of "space station." A SLICBM does sessionally that - launches a bus into orbit containing some bombs - that it then aligns with its target and drops one. if you had some in relatively stable long term orbits you could launch a strike with very little warning - is it a meteor or is it a bomb. The down side is it could lead to an accidental counter-strike if someone thought a meteor was a bomb re-entering. IFIRC, the idea of orbiting bombs was bandied about until the world decided not to go dow that route.

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611692)

is it a meteor or is it a bomb. The down side is it could lead to an accidental counter-strike if someone thought a meteor was a bomb re-entering

Today's injection of culture into Slashdot: Icarus Allsorts, by Roger McGough [hearle.com] .

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (1)

Intropy (2009018) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611120)

In that book they drop rocks from the Moon to the Earth.

1. Turn the chemical energy in rocket fuel into kinetic energy using rocket engines.
2. Turn kinetic engine into gravitation potential energy by orbiting.
3. Turn gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy by deorbiting and falling.
4. Turn kinetic energy into heat et. al. by colliding with target.

That's pretty inefficient. It's the equivalent of shooting a bullet by aiming upwards and getting the bullet to fall on your target. You can just skip steps 2 and 3. There is some advantage to be gained if you decrease the delay between deciding to hit something and actually hitting it. But the costs are enormous and that's not at all related to the "strategic advantage" in the cited book.

Re:Makes sense... space is the ultimate high groun (1)

jpapon (1877296) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611308)

i think the strategic advantage is gained by having a weapon that can hit the enemy, which the enemy is (I'm assuming) unable to destroy. To follow your analogy, it would be more like floating a gun platform up on a balloon. Sure, it's less efficient than just shooting someone, but it also means that your enemy is constantly in danger of being shot, and there's not a damn thing they can do about it.

Regardless, MAD makes this all kind of pointless. Shooting moonrocks at someone does little to prevent them from launching their ICBMs at you.

Just imagine (3, Funny)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610330)

After doing the first fly-around to see if it had any titanium orbital bombardment rods or nuclear missiles strapped onto it, they've since been watching it carefully to see if the empty space station module will transform into some kind of giant gun or fighting robot..or at least unfurl a communist flag or something.

When it takes off for Jupiter (4, Funny)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610356)

is when I get interested

Re:When it takes off for Jupiter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611498)

I wonder how many will get the ref.

Re:Just imagine (3, Insightful)

Dan East (318230) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610590)

This would also allow the US to monitor uplink communications to the satellite as it crosses over China, which would otherwise be impossible (especially if the Chinese are using very directional ground-based equipment). Note that the satellites only cross paths every so often. It's not like they are sitting side by side in orbit or something.

Re:Just imagine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610620)

The world we live in is dominated by people who love power. We would all enjoy a better life if they loved people instead. http://youronline.biz

Re:Just imagine (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611062)

The world we live in is dominated by people who love power. We would all enjoy a better life if they loved people instead. http://youronline.biz/ [youronline.biz]

Great. The sixties are coming back. What's next? Nixon? Bellbottoms?

Re:Just imagine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611510)

Actually, if this meant saying goodbye to the current situation, going back to the seventies might not be so bad! I would be willing to put up with bell-bottoms and even (shudder) disco if it meant saying goodbye to the current gridlock and the economy!

Re:Just imagine (0)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610808)

Bonus racism points for confusing Chinese and Japanese. I mean, jeez, that's like confusing Dutch and Russian. They aren't even close! But, to racists who only look at skin color, I'm sure that mistake could be made.

Re:Just imagine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611250)

It might have something to do with the eyes too..

Just trying to be as much of a dick as possible here.

Re:Just imagine (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611312)

I'm racist? You're the one assuming the Chinese are inherently incapable of transforming fighting robot technology.

Re:Just imagine (1)

EvilBudMan (588716) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610964)

What if they unfurled a lightning machine or something to control the weather? Nah, I don't think so.

Oh good grief (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610332)

Is this 1965? Is Sean Connery playing James Bond? Space is dead. "Technology"? What technology? It's a tin can in low earth orbit. So what?

Isnt it more likely (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610342)

That they're in the same orbits because that's favorable from an engineering / rocket propulsion perspective?
Kind of like how geosynchronous satellites all occupy more or less the same distance from earth?

Re:Isnt it more likely (3, Informative)

TwineLogic (1679802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610482)

No. The altitude is one variable. Another is orbital plane, or angle. Some satellites move directly above the equator. Most orbital craft do not, and track a sinusoidal ground path which crosses the equator.

The altitude of these craft is related to the energy they expend getting to orbit. In that sense, the altitudes are correlated by the rocket type.

The orbital plane has to do with the launch location and time, as well as maneuvers made to change the plane.

Re:Isnt it more likely (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610760)

The orbital plane has to do with the launch location and time, as well as maneuvers made to change the plane.

When you say "orbital plane", do you mean the orbital plane or the orbital plane's orbital plane?

Also, does the orbital plane's orbital plane have its own orbital plane, too?

Re:Isnt it more likely (1)

gzipped_tar (1151931) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610968)

Certainly it does. It is a decent way to visualize the orbital perturbation stuff.

Ho-hum... (5, Interesting)

taiwanjohn (103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610368)

Rival countries spying on each other's technology... what else is new? According to TFA the X37-B launched before Tiangong, and later shifted its orbit to track the Chinese station. If true, that would be an impressive trick.

Re:Ho-hum... (5, Informative)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610478)

The more impressive trick is that it's way, way past it's total mission time, and was scheduled to come down around thanksgiving. It's now almost 2 months past it's original planned mission. And yeah, it did change it's orbit, back in May or so. Pretty much everyone wants to know what's going on in North Korea and Iran, and apparently you can photograph both from the orbit that Tiandong is in.
 
More info http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-37 [wikipedia.org] skip down to the operational history part.

Re:Ho-hum... (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610680)

The more impressive trick is that it's way, way past it's total mission time, and was scheduled to come down around thanksgiving. It's now almost 2 months past it's original planned mission.

That's only impressive if it's deliberate... otherwise it has become just another piece of space junk.

Re:Ho-hum... (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611114)

otherwise it has become just another piece of space junk

Or Taapon [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Ho-hum... (1)

Megane (129182) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611310)

Pretty much everyone wants to know what's going on in North Korea and Iran, and apparently you can photograph both from the orbit that Tiandong is in.

In other words, it's entirely possible that this is a coincidence, based on both being positioned to look at the same something else, rather than at each other. And the X-37 going into that orbit before Tiandong was launched somewhat supports this.

Re:Ho-hum... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610510)

Very correct. And Tiangong launched into an unusual orbit compared to the previous. Perhaps the US knew that before hand?

Regardless, when these two objects meet in orbit the angles and differences in direction, etc do not point a finger on X37 spying on Tiangong. Actually, X37 never does get a really good look at the other object - well it does, but if you put an orbital model up, you will see that when they meet, it is a very large angle, not something that was planned if you wanted to spy on the other.

Anyhoo... This is a non story.

Re:Ho-hum... (1, Flamebait)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610604)

not point a finger on X37 spying on Tiangong

Whenever there is an article pointing out an obvious spy mission, there is always the apologist who chimes in with "the U.S. isn't spying on so-and-so." Sometimes I wonder what the hell you apologists think that all those CIA staffers and operatives do all day. Do you think everyone just shows up at the CIA and stares at a wall until it's time to go home?

Re:Ho-hum... (2)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610672)

No, they have better things to do than stare at an empty space station - like the Middle East for example.

Re:Ho-hum... (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610894)

No, they have better things to do than stare at an empty space station - like the Middle East for example.

Hard to imagine that the USA doesn't already have a purpose-build spy satellite in geostationary orbit above the Middle East.

Or a dozen.

Re:Ho-hum... (3, Insightful)

taiwanjohn (103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611078)

We may very well have a satellite in geostationary orbit over the middle-east, but what good would it do? Spy-sats typically fly at an altitude of a couple-hundred miles... geostationary orbit is roughly 100 times farther away, which makes it practically useless for most "spy" applications.

Re:Ho-hum... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611118)

No, they have better things to do than stare at an empty space station - like the Middle East for example.

Hard to imagine that the USA doesn't already have a purpose-build spy satellite in geostationary orbit above the Middle East.

Or a dozen.

The interesting thing about the XB-37 compared with, say, the Keyhole, is that it can launch with a mission specific imaging package instead of a generalized set of sensors that may not be in an optimal condition for what you want to look at. Want to use a newly developed multispectral camera to tease out Iranian suicide boats? Rack it up and boost it.

Hell, you can launch it completely empty to amaze and confuse your enemies.

Re:Ho-hum... (1)

Marc_Hawke (130338) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610832)

Whenever there is an article pointing out an 'obvious' spy mission, I wonder what they are trying to distract attention away from. If we know what those CIA staffers are doing all day (spying on incomplete space stations...poor bothans) and we can see it's quite transparent and not so nefarious after all, then we don't need to worry about them anymore.

Re:Ho-hum... (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610936)

Whenever there is an article pointing out an 'obvious' spy mission, I wonder what they are trying to distract attention away from. If we know what those CIA staffers are doing all day (spying on incomplete space stations...poor bothans)

Or posting to Slashdot with "we're not spying on incomplete space station" replies.

Re:Ho-hum... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611194)

Dumbass.

He said the orbits don't point to spying on Tiangong -- not that they aren't spying on it (how would he know?), just that the orbit is objectively a bad choice for that -- which it is. Of course it could be a combined mission, where the ability to view some other target(s) without further plane-change maneuvers justifies the compromise to viewing Tiangong, or it could have nothing to do with Tiangong.

And even if he had said "they are not spying on Tiangong, that doesn't imply they're not spying on anyone at all.

Re:Ho-hum... (3, Interesting)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610588)

Actually, from what I could gather of the BBS article it looks like the Tiangong matched the X37-B's orbit, not the other way around (the X037 was launched to 300km at an inclination of 42.79 from the equator. The Tiangong's altitude was "similar", and an orbital inclination of 42.78). There was some speculation in the first article that the X-37 was reprogrammed to look at the Tiangong, but there is absolutely no way that was its original mission. The facts are more in line with the Chinese spying on the American mission, actually, but that is extremely unlikely given the rather more permanent nature of the space station. Most likely? Both were put in that orbit for the same reason: to keep an eye on the Middle East, which is of interest to everyone.

Re: Mad Magazine... (2)

taiwanjohn (103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610664)

Spy vs. Spy. Cool. ;-)

Re:Ho-hum... (1)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610724)

Gah. BBS should read BBC. Also, X037 should be X-37.

Re:Ho-hum... (1)

gfxguy (98788) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611612)

Rival countries spying on each other's technology...

From the summary: "Still, the U.S. is hugely suspicious of China's space endeavors"

They may actually want to spy on us! Shame on them!

Nobody has looked at the orbits very well (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610372)

Not going to get into too many details, but if you look at the orbits of the objects, they are not in the correct positions for OTV to get a good look at Tiangong. Why not get into details? Because the folks that understand this already know. And the people that don't understand what an RAAN is will probably just continue to believe these stories.

Re:Nobody has looked at the orbits very well (5, Interesting)

Sez Zero (586611) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610574)

Exactly. TFA puts it thusly:

"The X-37B is in a much lower inclination which means it can only see a very narrow band of latitudes, and the only thing that's of real interest in that band is the Middle East and Afghanistan.

There's nothing the US would want to look at in the Middle East, right? If it catches side glances at a Chinese space station, that's just gravy.

The article does end on a winner:

Wilder theories have also reared their heads, such as that both Tiangong-1 and the second X-37B spotted "something else" in space and went to have a look at it - but that seems a little bit like wishful thinking from ET-loving dreamers.

Yup, that's totally it. I can see Michael Bay's next screenplay forming...

Re:Nobody has looked at the orbits very well (1)

tunapez (1161697) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610720)

And the people that don't understand...

Or, hopefully if not eventually, they will disbelieve b/c the Drama Theater speculations projected by our entertaining news sources is a broken record and has a track record for baselessness and inanity. Fear this! Watch them! The sky is falling!

The US could use another space race right now (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610400)

For a plethora of socioeconomic reasons.

Re:The US could use another space race right now (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610684)

Ah, the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia... Powerful stuff. Why not another Industrial Revolution? Or how about another WWII?

Re:The US could use another space race right now (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611160)

Ah, the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia... Powerful stuff. Why not another Industrial Revolution? Or how about another WWII?

Space race is cheap. Environmentally friendly (compared to the Industrial Revolution or a major war). Not so many deaths. If the US isn't secretly bankrolling the Chinese space effort, it should be.

suspicion is justified (3, Interesting)

Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610426)

Keep in mind that China's recently launched aircraft carrier was ostensibly purchased from the Ukraine to be a "floating casino" in Macau. For an entertaining recap of how they got the ship, see the wikipedia article here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_aircraft_carrier_Varyag [wikipedia.org]

While public deception is certainly not unique to China, I think most people would agree that their military aspirations are more opaque than most people think.

Best,

Re:suspicion is justified (4, Funny)

tokul (682258) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610688)

Keep in mind that China's recently launched aircraft carrier

If you have one missile cruiser with carrier capability and your enemy has 10 super carriers, you have zero carriers.

Re:suspicion is justified (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611172)

If you have one missile cruiser with carrier capability and your enemy has 10 super carriers, you have zero carriers.

Aside from the US, there are a couple medium and a few smaller carriers and no large carriers in the world (last I checked, the carrier-borne combat force of the US Marine Corps was larger than every carrier-borne force outside the US combined, without even looking at the US Navy proper.) This makes medium -- and even smaller -- carriers extremly useful for power projection against any nation that isn't absolutely sure that the US will intervene on their side, which covers most of China's potential regional rivals.

Exactly one of China's potential rivals as any supercarriers, and deterring that rival from getting involved in any dispute China has with anyone else is a pretty big factor in why China has a strategic nuclear force.

Re:suspicion is justified (1)

EvilBudMan (588716) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611000)

Cool a casino in space with rich Chinese funding trips to play "Texas Hold Em". Maybe they are getting into space tourism. I just wanna see the cards dealt.

Re:suspicion is justified (1)

CubicleView (910143) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611256)

Just add an online game server to the space station, then people could play without the tourism bit.

Re:suspicion is justified (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611186)

most people would agree that their military aspirations are more opaque than most people think.

Zounds, that's recursive opaqueness!

Cold war / Detente: Saber rattling, not spying. (4, Interesting)

TwineLogic (1679802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610446)

This is detente in action. When China shot and destroyed their weather satellite FY-1C, they knew the debris from it would threaten the International Space Station. The FY-1C was in an orbit which left the debris at a hazardous altitude, threatening the US/Russian station.

If the US is following the Chinese station using X37-B, this may be to observe it. On the other hand, it may be a demonstration that we could destroy their station with a precision strike, thus they should not expend any more satellites in an attempt to shotgun our station.

This is an episode in our cold war with China.

Re:Cold war / Detente: Saber rattling, not spying. (1)

gtall (79522) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611266)

Or it just could be, as The Register suggested, a way to keep an eye on Iran and Afghanistan and WTFistan, given it's orbit. If you wanted to observe the Chinese Golden Spittoon or whatever their box is called, you could do it much cheaper without using the fancy new space vehicle.

china to deploy... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610472)

...large solar sail in shape of ornamental fan shortly.

Bogus Headline (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610512)

I'm not sure why this keeps getting posted around the internet as spying on China... the article makes it pretty clear that:

a) There's plenty of other ways to spy on China's station.
b) The space station was launched well after the X-37B.
c) The orbit and inclination of the X-37B implies that it is testing sensors over the Middle-East.
d) Is it really that important to have a dedicated satellite to spy on China's space station? It's not even manned right now.

Why would we need something in orbit for this? (2)

Karmashock (2415832) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610576)

One would think ground based telescopes would be just as good and more stealthy. These things are designed to look at distant stars. One would think they could get excellent resolution on a satellite.

Maybe I'm wrong... I won't claim to be an expert. It just seems we have a lot of hardware pointed skyward and collectively it should be able to keep tabs on anything in low earth orbit.

It's not spying (2)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610586)

It's NASA's creative workaround for R&D budget cuts.

And they saw Tiangong-1... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610614)

driving slowly with its turn signal blinking

the most dangerous thing china (3, Insightful)

nimbius (983462) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610696)

or any other "axis of evil" power for that matter can do in the wake of american foreign policy and dominionism is to be peaceful. if iran's nuclear program never moves beyond nuclear fuel for reactors, and chinas space aspirations remain seated in the exploration of the cosmos, then america is left without a boogeyman for the immediate future.

Re:the most dangerous thing china (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610986)

OMG - this would mean a pressing demand to fix medicare and the economy as well as look after its' own population instead of fighting wars. Terrifying!!!

Re:the most dangerous thing china (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611188)

'or any other "axis of evil"'

China is not on that list

Well, NO, from TFA, even (5, Informative)

Cragen (697038) | more than 2 years ago | (#38610872)

In the article, for pete's sake, the "expert to be quoted today", "Brian Weedon, a technical adviser to the Secure World Foundation and former orbital analyst with the USAF, " , actually IN THE FSCKING ARTICLE says, ""The X-37B is in a much lower inclination which means it can only see a very narrow band of latitudes, and the only thing that's of real interest in that band is the Middle East and Afghanistan.

"Is it spying on Tiangong-1? I really don't think so. [Emphasis mine.] I think the fact that their orbits intersect every now and again - that's just a co-incidence. If the US really wanted to observe Tiangong, it has enough assets to do that without using X-37B," he added. "

Jeez, would it hurt the submitter too much to actually read to the END OF THE FREAKING ARTICLE? Headline-hunting much?

OMG!! Yellow peril! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38610888)

Yes, god forbid the Chinese do anything like launch military spy satellites that monitor everything and everyone in the world ... like the United States already has.

misinformation (1)

rapidfx (2541852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611010)

You shouldn't use a title like that when you have zero proof. You are making up stuff. You sound like the mass media.

could be false positive (1)

KDN (3283) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611236)

By the same argument you could say that all the geosynchronous satellites are running in tandem with each other, so they must be spying on each other. While it is possible, I'd say a more likely reason is that whatever the two of them are doing up there, they are observing the same areas around the world.

How long until spacewar debris... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611260)

How long until spacewar debris makes the margin for error in passing through LEO too risky?

Presumeably they calculate launches to avoid debris ahead of time. How tricky are those calcs now? How tricky do they have to get for the Earth to be locked in a halo of debris?

Spaceflight might only be practical for less than 100 years. The next civilization, if one arises, will probably have little knowledge of ours so the lessons can't be passed on...

Duh ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38611368)

Just what did you think they wanted a space plane for ??? After all, they're officially not supposed to have weapons up there.

other way around? (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 2 years ago | (#38611410)

The Chinese spacecraft is spying on the US spacecraft? China would never spy on us!
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