Tulsa Man Part Of International Team Tracking Secretive Space Plane

Friday, August 27th 2010, 4:55 pm
By: News On 6

By Dan Bewley, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- A Tulsa man is on his version of a journey in space.

Brad Young is part of an international team tracking a special plane streaking through the heavens. It looks like a fireball dashing across the sky, but space enthusiasts say it's much more.

Young is part of a team that has a front row seat.

"Well for the last month we've been trying to track X-37B," said Young, who is a member of the Astronomy Club of Tulsa.

The X-37B is an orbital test vehicle. That's NASA for experimental space plane. It was launched in mid-April and orbits the earth every 90 minutes at a comfortable 400 miles above the planet.

"It's extremely exciting," Young said.

Young has joined forces with amateur astronomers in Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands to follow the space plane as it circles the globe.

"You tell them where you saw it, they figure out where it's going to be next, and you have this symbiotic relationship," said Young.

The X-37B is unmanned and ground control has been maneuvering it through the sky, a little up, a little down, changing its flight path ever so slightly. 

Young's group even lost it for two weeks in July. That's how they were certain it was the X-37B and not some other satellite.  That also fueled speculation around the world about the craft's intended purpose.

The U.S. Air Force took over the program in 2006, after NASA said it couldn't afford it anymore.

"So it's kind of a cat and mouse game," Young said.

The Air Force isn't saying much about what the X-37B is doing up there right now, only that they're checking its performance and making sure the technology for reusable space vehicles works as planned.

The space plane is unique from other satellites because it can return safely back to earth. For Young, it's the space flight that's the focus, watching the skies and tracking the future of space flight.

The X-37B will next be visible over Tulsa in about two weeks. Follow its path online.