Air Force’s X-37B Space Plane Lands in Florida After Record-Breaking Secret Mission

The record-shattering goal of a U.S. Air Force’s robotic X-37B space plane is finally over.


After encircling Earth for an rare 718 days, a X-37B overwhelmed down Sunday (May 7) at a Shuttle Landing Facility during NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — a initial alighting during a SLF given a final space convey goal came behind to Earth in Jul 2011.

“Today outlines an impossibly sparkling day for a 45th Space Wing as we continue to mangle barriers,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, a 45th SW commander, pronounced in a statement. “Our group has been scheming for this eventuality for several years, and we am intensely unapproachable to see a tough work and loyalty cap in today’s protected and successful alighting of a X-37B.” [The Mysterious X-37B Space Plane: 6 Surprising Facts]

The U.S. Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle goal 4 (OTV-4) is seen after alighting during a Shuttle Landing Facility of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 7, 2017. The unpiloted space craft spent a record 718 days in space during a personal mission.
Credit: U.S. Air Force

The just-ended mission, famous as OTV-4 (Orbital Test Vehicle-4), was a fourth for a X-37B program. All 4 launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and a initial 3 landed during Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But Air Force officials have pronounced they wish to connect X-37B launch and touchdown operations on Florida’s Space Coast, so today’s alighting competence be a initial of many during a SLF.  

“The tough work of a X-37B OTV group and a 45th Space Wing successfully demonstrated a coherence and solve required to continue a nation’s enrichment in space,” Randy Walden, a executive of a Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said in a same statement. “The ability to land, refurbish, and launch from a same plcae serve enhances a OTV’s ability to fast confederate and validate new space technologies.”

The Air Force is famous to possess dual X-37B space craft vehicles, both of that were built by Boeing. The 29-foot-long (8.8 meters) X-37B looks like NASA’s now-retired space convey orbiter, usually most smaller; indeed, dual X-37Bs could fit inside a space shuttle’s cavernous cargo bay.

The X-37B launches plumb and comes behind to Earth horizontally for a runway landing, as a space convey did.

Most of a X-37B’s payloads and activities are classified, heading to some conjecture that a space craft could be a arms of some sort, maybe a disabler of rivalry satellites. But Air Force officials have always strongly refuted that notion, stressing that a car is simply contrast technologies on orbit.  [The X-37B’s Fourth Mystery Mission in Photos]

Technicians in protecting rigging work on a U.S. Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle after a successful alighting during NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 7, 2017. NASA's large Vehicle Assembly Building is manifest in a stretch during tip right.
Credit: U.S. Air Force
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“Technologies being tested in a module embody modernized guidance, navigation and control; thermal-protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal, reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical moody systems; and unconstrained orbital flight, re-entry and landing,” Capt. AnnMarie Annicelli, an Air Force spokeswoman, told Space.com around email in March.

“Also, a Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), and a Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (AFRCO) are questioning an initial thrust system,” she said.

Outside experts generally determine with a Air Force’s claims, observant it’s doubtful that a X-37B is doing anything assertive or sinful on orbit. Some observers have suggested that, in further to a roles cited by Annicelli, a car might be testing sensors for a National Reconnaissance Office, that operates a United States’ swift of view satellites.

Each X-37B moody has been longer than a last. OTV-1 carried off on Apr 22, 2010, and spent 224 days in space; OTV-2 launched on Mar 5, 2011, and orbited Earth for 468 days; and OTV-3 began on Dec. 11, 2012, and lasted 674 days. (OTV-4 carried off on May 20, 2015.)

Though OTV-4 set an X-37B module record, a goal fell distant brief of a altogether symbol for longest spaceflight mission. Some Earth-observing satellites have operated for decades, and NASA’s twin Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes are still promulgation information home, scarcely 40 years after their 1977 launches.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.


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