You didn’t know we had a secret space shuttle? I thought everyone knew! Well, this one is pretty small, and it’s unmanned. Which helps explain why it spent over a year in orbit:
Space Daily— There’s been some speculation that X-37B was spying on ground targets with cameras inside the payload bay. This is certainly possible, but it’s important to distinguish a camera test from an operational spying mission. We don’t even know for sure if spy cameras were inside the payload bay. This author believes that the parts under the hood were less exciting, and probably include mechanical hinges, batteries, insulation samples and electronic boards.
Such things are not very sexy, but they’re vital. Several NRO spy satellites have suffered untimely demises when parts inside them suddenly failed. Developing and testing quality satellite parts is probably the most critical challenge currently facing the NRO.
The X-37B offers a unique opportunity to fly these parts in space for lengthy periods, expose them to the rigours of orbit, and return them to Earth for analysis. Plus, the spacecraft is operated by the military, which can provide an appropriate level of secrecy for the mission.
Really? We don’t have enough surveillance capacity with our army of spy sats and drones and signal intel and pay offs and the whole bit? One of these days, if this madness ever ends, we’re gonna see just what kinds of nifty gizmos our trillions bought. I bet it’s more than a couple of spare hubble-like telescope.