A secret drone, a Boeing-built X37B, has a mission to deliver materials to the International Space Station.
The drone first launched in 2010. It has no pilot, crew or any onboard person monitoring the ship’s control. This is a drone by the purest definition. The “secret” drone launches May 20, making it the fourth time it’s launched.
Engadget.com reporter Mariella Moon writes, “it won’t only be testing a new type of Hall effect thruster for the Air Force, it will also be carrying a collection of 100 different materials that can potentially be used for future spacecraft, rovers, rockets and other space hardware.” Hall Effect thrusters use electricity as an energy rather than chemical combustion. This makes them more efficient for small velocity changes during lengthy missions.
Project METIS stands for Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space. Goals for the drone and the project is are to gather data, incorporate new materials and possibly deliver samples for on-board missions.
“Lips were sealed for the previous X-37B missions, and there is a simple and plausible explanation for this. The Hall Effect thruster was not carried on these flights. The other payloads were more secretive, and were probably not connected to any U.S. Air Force program,” according to Morris Jones for SpaceDaily.com.
Only time will tell if NASA discloses more information.