I hate to break up a good conspiracy, but it’s just a piece of debris. First, the photos of this item are neither recent nor secret. Looking at the link format used by NASA's site, the direct link posted by Doc indicates that the source is STS 88, Film Roll 724, Frame 66. “STS88” was the mission code for an International Space Station construction mission undertaken by Space Shuttle Endeavour
in December 1998. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-88
. All of the photos from that mission are on the NASA Astronaut Photography site. Here are all of the photos of that piece of debris, which are labeled by NASA as “Sunglint, Space Debris”: http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/sseop/images/IS ... 724-65.jpghttp://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/sseop/images/IS ... 724-66.jpghttp://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/sseop/images/IS ... 724-67.jpghttp://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/sseop/images/IS ... 724-68.jpghttp://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/sseop/images/IS ... 724-69.jpghttp://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/sseop/images/IS ... 724-70.jpg
In particular, frame 67 shows that the items in question is quite thin and flimsy. It’s a piece of scrap metal or something.
Moreover, the fact that an astronaut on Endeavour
took this photo means that it could not possibly be something in polar orbit. While the Shuttle was originally designed with the capability to reach polar orbit, the only location in the United States from which anything is launched to polar orbit is Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Shuttles couldn’t launch to polar orbit from Kennedy in Florida because that would have required the launch to pass over the populated mainland, which was considered a major a safety no-no. For that reason, Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenburg was rebuilt around 1985 (at the expense of more than $4 billion) as a West Coast launch site or the Shuttle. It was never used, however. The first Vandenburg launch was scheduled for later in the same year the Challenger
disaster occurred, and when Shuttle launches started up again more than two years later the decision was made to scrap all of the polar launches. SLC-6 at Vandenburg was rebuilt into a launch site for the Delta IV.
(As an aside, some of the design compromises built into the Space Shuttle were there because the U.S. military wanted to be able to use it to launch spy satellites. For example, the military demanded a bigger and heavier orbiter in order to launch big satellites into polar orbit. A lot of spy satellites back in the day went into polar orbit because that way they regularly overflew the Soviet Union. But with the abandonment of SLC-6 and the idea of West Coast polar launches, those design changes ended up being pointless.)