USAF X-37B Plane Comes Home After Record 2+ Years in Space

United States

United States

The Air Force notes that the X-37B is the world's only reusable space vehicle.

X-37B embarking on a mission managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office to conduct various classified technology experiments in a long-duration space environment.

US Force X-37B space plane has touched down at NASA's Kennedy Space Center nearly two years after Falcon 9 rocket launched it, smashing its own record for the longest time in space as its mission remains veiled in secrecy.

The first launch, which began in 2010, was only created to fly for 270 days, but now, almost a decade later, these Boeing-built space planes - of which there are at least two - have accumulated over 2,800 days in orbit.

Together, they have accumulated a total of 2,895 days on-orbit with the OTV program. Mission 4 landed at Kennedy Space Center on May 7, 2017, after 718 days in orbit.

On Sunday, the Air Force space plane safely landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida at 3:51 a.m. EDT, according to a press release. The whole point of X-37B is that its mission is mostly clandestine, so we likely won't ever know the full particulars of what it has been up to in its orbital jaunts.

Here's what we do know about the X-37B: The craft is created to test new navigation systems, as well as methods to reenter Earth's atmosphere and land safely. This particular vehicle, actually the second X-37B, has already flown three times now.

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Space News was able to get a description of one of the experiments on OTV-5.

According to the AFRL, the payload's three primary science objectives are to measure the initial on-orbit thermal performance, to measure long-duration thermal performance and to assess any lifetime degradation.

The big picture: The Air Force's unmanned spaceplane has returned to Earth following a record 780 days in orbit.

"The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane", Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said in today's statement.

It was X-37B's fifth mission that began in September 2017 when it took off aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 with some small sats and equipment for zero-gravity tests.

The Boeing-manufactured X-37B looks like a small space shuttle orbiter. In its Sunday press release, the Air Force announced it was preparing to launch the sixth X-37B mission in 2020.

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