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The U.S. Air Force's X-37B pilotless space plane was in orbit eleven of the thirteen months before infamous terrorist Osama Bin Laden's death. The U.S. likely spent over a billion dollars to build a pair of X-37Bs and put them in orbit during this time period.  (Source: EPA)

Many reports indicated that the craft's purpose was intelligence gathering.  (Source: EPA)

The U.S. military and intelligence community has extensively used Low Earth Orbit spy satellites in imaging targets in the Middle East. These images were taken by satellite in 2002, and helped justify the invasion of Iraq.

The X-37B shuttles would have the advantage of greater mobility and a shorter time in orbit, version conventional spy satellites.  (Source: EPA)

Osama Bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals inside a private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1.  (Source: The Long War Journal)
While technically feasible, we may never know whether the U.S. used these pricey tech toys for surveillance

In light of the UK newspaper Guardian's claims that the U.S. orchestrated an elaborate staged vaccination campaign to secretly collect the DNA of Osama Bin Laden's family members to verify his identity, one wonders what other lengths the U.S. government may have gone to in order to catch this terrorist who eluded the U.S. for nearly 10 years after the attacks of September 11.  We already know that it used top-secret modified Black Hawk helicopters to avoid detection.  So what other high tech devices might the U.S. military and intelligence community have deployed to aid the raid?

I. Background Information

When speaking recently with a science-minded professional colleague, they raised the idea that the X-37B autonomous space plane could have been used to spy in Bin Laden.  We found this idea fascinating so we wanted to dig into it further.

If you're a bit lost right now, here's the basics.  In April 2010 the U.S. used an Atlas V rocket to launch a mini space shuttle designed by The Boeing Comp. (BA).  This shuttle contained no human pilot -- it was navigated by robotic brains, based on commands by ground operators.  Between April and November the X-37B orbitted the Earth in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), before successfully reentering the atmosphere and landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

A second X-37B was constructed in 2010.  This vehicle was launched in March 2011 and presumably is still in orbit.

One pressing question on the minds of many is why the U.S. government gave the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and later the U.S. Air Force (USAF) the hundreds of millions in funding necessary to build the device.  The Atlas V launches alone likely cost around $200M USD combined [source].

The U.S. Air Force has asserted that the vehicle was being used to test new technologies, such as avionics, navigation, and small-scale atmospheric reentry insulation.  However, the program likely cost the government over $1B USD, so it's natural to wonder what justified that cost, particularly at a time NASA's budget was being cut.  And the highly-classified nature of the X-37B construction and launch only added to the speculation.

Tom Burghardt of Space Daily suggested that the vehicle could be used as a mobile spy satellite.  Air Force Deputy Undersecretary of Space Programs, Gary Payton, explicitly denied that the craft was carrying weapons, stating, "I don't know how this could be called a weaponization of space. Fundamentally, it's just an updated version of the space shuttle kinds of activities in space."

But he never said whether it might be carrying the kind of imaging equipment necessary for surveillance.

II. Could the X-37B Have Imaged the Bin Laden Compound?

Turning to the possibility of surveillance of the Bin Laden compound, it's important to consider the timeframe of events.  Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011 at a compound in a residential district outside of Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Over the last thirteen months, the USAF had an X-37B orbiter overhead for eleven of them.

And amateur astronomers observed the orbiter following variable paths that took it between 40 north and 40 south degrees of latitude, a swath that includes Pakistan.  Specifically, between September and October, observations logged on the site Heavens Above show the craft switching from north climbing orbit relative central Africa to a south dropping orbit.  During this switch it is likely that the craft's orbit crossed over Pakistan, though there was a gap in observations, making it hard to definitively say.

We contacted several aviation and defense analysts, but we were only able to get one to speak on record about the possibility.  He acknowledge that while it was purely speculative, that such an approach could have given certain benefits in terms of obfuscating the surveillance.

Marco Caceres of the Teal Group Corp. describes, "The X-37B is a an advanced technology demonstrator. The onboard technologies focus on such systems as avionics, guidance, navigation and control, structure materials, autonomous flight, reusable insulation, etc. In other words... those systems that would be critical to the development of a future reusable launch vehicle or "spaceplane"."

"While it is entirely possible that the X-37B might have carried some sort of camera or imaging system that might have been used by the US military for the purposes you suggest, there is no evidence of this... and thus any suggestions that this might have occurred would be strictly speculative."

During our conversation Mr. Caceres suggested that one potential advantage of such a use would be that unlike spy satellites it could be more mobile and would only be in orbit a short time, making it harder to spot. In theory, those factors could serve to reduce the likelihood that the Pakistani military or other sources might detect the orbiter and tip off Bin Laden that he might be under surveillance.

We reached out to Boeing for comment, but have not yet heard back from them.

At the end of the day, the conclusion to draw here is that while it is very feasible that the X-37B's high price was justified by delivering vital surveillance of the Bin Laden compound, there's no evidence to prove that to be the case.  At the end of the day the U.S. public will likely never know whether the X-37B was merely a research craft, or whether it led a double life as a terrorist-busting super spy.


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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

So basically
By FITCamaro on 7/14/2011 9:33:44 AM , Rating: 5
This article is "I'm Jason Mick and this is my opinion."

Blog section.




RE: So basically
By Mitch101 on 7/14/11, Rating: -1
RE: So basically
By FITCamaro on 7/14/2011 12:42:17 PM , Rating: 4
Except this is nothing but entire speculation.


RE: So basically
By tng on 7/14/2011 9:56:16 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
that while it is very feasible that the X-37B's high price was justified by delivering vital surveillance of the Bin Laden compound, there's no evidence to prove that to be the case.
FIT is correct, all opinion and somewhat speculative focus on the X-37B use specifically to spy on OBL.

There were probably allot of goals that this craft was meant to test/accomplish and this may just have been a side benefit. This was not even controlled out of the same office that does "Space Command" for the Air Force, but a different group, more on the technology side than spy satellite side.


RE: So basically
By Phynaz on 7/14/2011 10:25:53 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
This article is "I'm Jason Mick and this is my opinion."


It's more like "I'm Jason Mick, and this is conjecture from somebody I work with".

It certainly is exclusive though, because no other "news" site will have a McDonald's break room conversation with this guy.


RE: So basically
By GulWestfale on 7/14/11, Rating: -1
RE: So basically
By NellyFromMA on 7/14/2011 10:44:02 AM , Rating: 2
dumb


RE: So basically
By W00dmann on 7/14/2011 3:55:21 PM , Rating: 2
I LOVE this article! Nothing says "Jason Mick" better than an article written purely out of speculation, with no supporting facts (acknowledged or unacknowledged), yet full of such gravitas and self-importance. And it's labelled as "exclusive" too! Wow! Gird your loins, we are being treated to an "exclusive" peek inside Mick's brain. You just can't find this anywhere else (omg).

And isn't it great that he's being paid to ink his fantasies for us to read, as if it was a news piece? And isn't it even better that he responds and defends his mystical flights of fancy, arguing with his loyal readers?

Truly, anybody could do Mick's job. That includes a brick hanging by a rope off a lever. Heck, I will happily write something about ponies and the Pentagon and post them for all to read. Pay me.

Remember folks: you read it here first. World exclusive!

I love it. Keep it up, Mick.


RE: So basically
By tng on 7/14/2011 4:06:17 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
And isn't it great that he's being paid to ink his fantasies for us to read......?
Living the dream.

I don't mind the speculation, just as long as it is labeled as such. I do like his writing style.


RE: So basically
By JasonMick (blog) on 7/14/11, Rating: 0
RE: So basically
By MrTeal on 7/14/2011 12:24:00 PM , Rating: 2
Come on Jason, even the Space Daily article you linked is hardly expert and has an obvious agenda and bias.

quote:
The X-40 project eventually merged with the Air Force's X-37B program and the X-41 CAV program has been absorbed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV-2).

Last month, the first test of the Falcon (apparently) ended in failure when DARPA researchers claimed they had lost contact with the craft moments after take-off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Falcon was supposed to demonstrate the feasibility of launching a vehicle to the edge of space and then have it come "screaming back into the atmosphere, maneuvering at twenty times the speed of sound before landing north of the Kwajalein Atoll, 30 minutes later and 4100 nautical miles away," according to Wired.

Did the HTV-2 mission fail? Since misdirection and disinformation have long been staples of Pentagon black world projects, most likely we'll never know one way or the other.


The article you're using as a source is fully of these loaded questions. Did the HTV-2 fail? How can we know? The Pentagon said it did, but how can we trust them? I'm not saying it was successful, I'm just asking the question!

Sure it's feasible that they could have mounted a camera on the X-37B, but you could just as easily write an article discussing whether an secret spy satellite launch could actually contain rockets containing chemical weapons. Loaded questions don't make for good journalism, it just makes it look like you're pushing an agenda.


RE: So basically
By JasonMick (blog) on 7/14/2011 1:03:15 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
The article you're using as a source is fully of these loaded questions. Did the HTV-2 fail? How can we know? The Pentagon said it did, but how can we trust them? I'm not saying it was successful, I'm just asking the question!

You're blaming me for something someone else wrote?

I'm the first one to discuss the feasibility of the X-37B having been used to survey the OBL complex.

I specifically seek to examine IF IT WAS FEASIBLE. I don't speculate on whether it was.

quote:
Sure it's feasible that they could have mounted a camera on the X-37B, but you could just as easily write an article discussing whether an secret spy satellite launch could actually contain rockets containing chemical weapons. Loaded questions don't make for good journalism, it just makes it look like you're pushing an agenda.

Again, this was meant to discuss feasibility. The scenario you mentioned would have far less evidence supporting its feasibility. Namely, chemical weapons rockets deployed from space have ostensibly never been tested, where as satellite surveillance has extensively.

Likewise it's a far greater leap of faith to hypothesize that the U.S. might have put offensive ground attack weapons on a space craft, as they have never done that, versus putting a high-res camera on a spacecraft, something they've done multiple times and have even publicly shared the results of.

Again, OBL surveillance is just a possibility, but if that was not the target, there's a strong possibility that the craft could have been used to perform other surveillance duties.


RE: So basically
By MrTeal on 7/14/2011 1:26:39 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
You're blaming me for something someone else wrote?


When it's the only outside link you post that actually discusses this issue, yes.

Really Jason, I get what you're trying to explain, but I think that the quantity of people here that have a problem with this article should indicate that there might be an issue with the piece. You might have intended to discuss the feasibility of using the X-37B as a surveillance platform, but the article as written comes off as strongly suggesting that the USAF used the X-37B to monitor OBL. When you post things like a link to Heaven's Above data showing that the orbit passed over Pakistan, it makes certain implications.

You are using the Heaven's Above site incorrectly though. As linked, what you see there is all the times between Aug 28 and Sept 7, 2010 when the X-37B would be bright enough to be visible with the naked eye to someone standing at Lat 0 Long 0 in the middle of the Atlantic. While true, it's hardly supporting your case.
You're also analyzing the orbit incorrectly. It doesn't go from North to South because of the boost. That happens during every orbit. When the orbit was changed in Aug 2010, it was simply boosted to a higher altitude, it wasn't a large change of orbit.


RE: So basically
By JasonMick (blog) on 7/14/11, Rating: 0
RE: So basically
By Phynaz on 7/14/2011 9:06:17 PM , Rating: 2
So that's your justification? That in your opinion there is somebody worse than you?


RE: So basically
By FITCamaro on 7/14/2011 12:44:34 PM , Rating: 1
So again. This is article is your opinion based on speculation of what might have happened.

There is no news here. I could just as easily speculate that the ISS is providing surveillance of Pakistan.


RE: So basically
By JasonMick (blog) on 7/14/11, Rating: 0
RE: So basically
By FITCamaro on 7/14/2011 2:15:30 PM , Rating: 1
You put "Exclusive" at the beginning of the title. In real news, that implies you have some kind of information that no one else has. This is nothing but your opinions of some things you read.

So while your thoughts might be "exclusive" information, that in no way makes them newsworthy or an "Exclusive" in the news world.

You can try to squeeze diamonds out of coal all day Jason. This belongs in the blog section. Without the "Exclusive" title on it.


RE: So basically
By maven81 on 7/14/2011 2:00:49 PM , Rating: 2
"On the other hand, the spy shuttle would also be harder to detect than a high altitude plane -- which again, would help obfuscate any possible surveillance from the compromised Pakistani intelligence community."

Maybe not Jason. At least not at night: http://legault.perso.sfr.fr/spy_satellites.html


RE: So basically
By Jeffk464 on 7/14/2011 8:37:13 PM , Rating: 2
Well at least fitcamaro never has an opinion.

Hey anyone notice this thing was up for 11 months and seems to have been moving all over the place in its orbit. I would have thought that would burn through to much fuel to have an endurance of 11 months, pretty cool.


If only...
By PlasmaBomb on 7/14/2011 10:28:21 AM , Rating: 4
They had some kind of plane that could fly at extremely high altitudes, at high speed and take the kind of photos they wanted...

Oh well.




RE: If only...
By 91TTZ on 7/14/2011 11:10:51 AM , Rating: 3
They could do that if they were intending to fly over Pakistan. Hell, we could use low cost, slow drones in Pakistan because they allowed us to. No need to use an expensive spy plane or a more expensive satellite.

We don't need to use anything expensive to spy on a country that allows us to operate within its borders.


RE: If only...
By Kenenniah on 7/14/2011 11:28:18 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
We don't need to use anything expensive to spy on a country that allows us to operate within its borders.

You do if you don't want said country to know about the particular instance of spying. There was concern over whether Pakistan knew about OBL and whether someone from Pakistan would tip him off.


At the end of the day...
By MrTeal on 7/14/2011 10:15:03 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
At the end of the day the U.S. public will likely never know whether the X-37B was merely a research or craft, or whether it led a double life as a terrorist-busting super spy.


At the end of the day we'll never know if the Bin Laden compound was really raided by brave marines, or bygenetically engineering zombie Hilters bred deep in Area 51. Sure they deny it, but of course they would.

There's nothing to suggest that the X-37B was testing space weapons or conducting surveillance. There's been some speculation that it could be used for those purposes, but there's also a lot of speculation that Comet Elenin is a brown dwarf that's going to kill us all. Unless there's some evidence pointing to the source of intel being the X-37B, what's the point of this?




RE: At the end of the day...
By Iaiken on 7/14/2011 10:20:37 AM , Rating: 2
Could just be that Boeing's lobbyists are simply better at keeping the money flowing both ways than NASA's...


Useless article and highly unlikely anyway.
By 91TTZ on 7/14/2011 11:06:47 AM , Rating: 2
First, the entire article is lacking any sort of relevant information or evidence why we'd use this for that reason. There's only one quote in the story and even that's from a guy saying that it's only just speculation.

Secondly, it's highly improbably that we used this spacecraft for that purpose. Drones would be the preferred method of spying if possible. They're much cheaper, readily available, can take better pictures since they're much closer to the ground, can stay in one location for a long period of time providing continuous video, and to top it all off we already know that they've been operating in Pakistan for years.

It's much more likely that we're using such an expensive system for a much more important target where a cheaper option isn't available. Most likely we're spying on China with it.

Besides, spy satellites are in a non-geosynchronous orbit so you only get to take pictures at predefined times during the flyover. They're mostly useful to keep track of progress of equipment movements or building projects.

It would make sense to use it for China because they already know the times that our usual spy satellites are overhead so they schedule their activities accordingly. It would be beneficial to use a satellite which can slightly change its orbit because you don't know exactly where or when it's going to be overhead.




By MrTeal on 7/14/2011 11:32:29 AM , Rating: 2
The problem with using the X-37B for surveillance on China is that everyone knows where it is anyway. Hell, Bin Laden could have went out any night and seen the X-37B naked eye in the sky if he'd wanted.

http://www.heavens-above.com/PassSummary.aspx?sati...

The orbit was very well characterized, and even when the orbit was changed the new orbit was acquired pretty quickly.


By YashBudini on 7/14/2011 9:24:26 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
one wonders

More so after reading this than before.

quote:
So what other high tech devices might the U.S. military and intelligence community have deployed to aid the raid?

Well obviously the same cameras used on CSI Las Vegas, that can turn 2 pixels of color into a highly detailed face.

quote:
they raised the idea

Is that what they are calling suspicion & pure speculation these days?

quote:
One pressing question on the minds of many is why the U.S. government gave the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and later the U.S. Air Force (USAF) the hundreds of millions in funding necessary to build the device.

Isn't it obvious? They werer told NASA & the USAF need a couple more hammers and toilet seats.

quote:
so it's natural to wonder what justified that cost, particularly at a time NASA's budget was being cut.

NASA just has a budget delay, since they no longer can achieve the elevation of a required orbit with fuel that contains 10% ethanol. The corn lobby is blaming the fuel tank designers; you're holding the ethanol wrong.

quote:
Tom Burghardt of Space Daily suggested that the vehicle could be used as a mobile spy satellite.

Suggested, the most solid statement made in this article yet.

quote:
But he never said whether it might be carrying the kind of imaging equipment necessary for surveillance.

But really, it depends on what you mean by "imaging equipment." "I did not have imaging with that equipment; NASA or USAF stuff!"

quote:
Turning to the possibility

We certainly aren't at a loss for these, are we?

quote:
Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011 at a compound in a residential district outside of Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Exactly 1 month after the other side of the world celebrated April Fool's Day. Coincidence? I think not.

quote:
Over the last thirteen months, the USAF had an X-37B orbiter overhead for eleven of them.

A fact substantiated by a 1300% increase in the use of tin foil hats over at Bellevue.

quote:
During this switch it is likely that the craft's orbit crossed over Pakistan, though there was a gap in observations, making it hard to definitively say.

The 18 minute gap is precisely the same length as on the Nixon Watergate Tapes, but since most people are currently getting Time Warner Cable it was considered just a routine outage.

quote:
about the possibility

How many is this now? I lost count.

quote:
there is no evidence of this... and thus any suggestions that this might have occurred would be strictly speculative.

No evidence of this? You don't even have a shred of circumstantial evidence.

quote:
In theory,

"some people say....."

quote:
We reached out to Boeing for comment

Oh for Pete's sake, you contacted them, you didn't try to hug them.

quote:
At the end of the day, the conclusion[s] to draw here

1. Editorials should be marked as such, even though Faux doesn't.
2. Using their techniques merely diminishes you and DT.
3. 2 wrongs don't make a right.




By DanNeely on 7/14/2011 9:41:38 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
And amateur astronomers observed the orbiter following variable paths that took it between 40 north and 40 south degrees of latitude, a swath that includes Pakistan.


Those same amateurs repeatedly worked out its specific orbit at the time of their observations. With that information you could have checked if it was actually overflying bin laden's compound.




Reaching out to Boeing
By yottabit on 7/14/2011 12:10:28 PM , Rating: 2
"We reached out to Boeing for comment, but have not yet heard back from them."

I lol'd so hard at this

I wouldn't hold your breath too long on their response




Bash all you want
By JimboK29 on 7/14/2011 12:50:34 PM , Rating: 2
Forget the content of the story for once. It is all about comments. At the end of the day, Mick laughs all the way to the bank with all of these comments to show his advertisers.




The Jason Mick Tabloid
By OoklaTheMok on 7/14/2011 4:29:26 PM , Rating: 2
Is this supposed to be the published piece that lands you a long sought after job at the National Enquirer, now that News of the World has been shut down?

Or is it something else?

EXCLUSIVE: DailyTech could be acquired by News Corp to replace shuttered News of the World.




fdsafds
By rangrangang on 7/14/2011 8:18:47 PM , Rating: 2
There was a problem creating your account - that username or email address may already be in use or there is some other problem with that address.




czxczx
By rangrangang on 7/14/2011 8:20:51 PM , Rating: 2
http://www.benzlogo.com/

I tide fashion Good-looking, not expensive Free transport




By SimonVagueGarfunkel on 7/15/2011 3:59:32 AM , Rating: 2
lolololololololololololol10101010101!!!!!!!!!!

The amazing thing is that this wasn't even the most sensationalized headline at DT today.




cxzcxz
By cxzczx on 7/15/2011 9:08:49 AM , Rating: 2
http://www.benzlogo.com/

I tide fashion Good-looking, not expensive Free transport




Could the US have used
By GatoRat on 7/14/11, Rating: -1
Mick's work
By CZroe on 7/14/11, Rating: -1
RE: Mick's work
By CZroe on 7/14/11, Rating: -1
"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller














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