The mysterious X-37B returns to Earth after almost three years in orbit

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The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility Oct. 27, 2019. The X-37B OTV is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force.


Andrea Leinfelder

Houston Chronicle

The military’s mysterious spaceplane has returned to Earth after some two-and-half years circling the planet.

It was an unadvertised return, though speculation about it began on Twitter after Floridians heard the telltale sonic booms of a spacecraft reentry over the weekend.

The Space Force, the U.S. government military branch that operates under the umbrella of the Air Force, later confirmed the spaceplane’s landing.

The uncrewed X-37B landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Saturday at 4:22 a.m. Central Standard Time. It was the sixth mission for the reusable vehicle, which has wings like the space shuttle but is one-fourth the size.

According to Boeing, which built the X-37B, this is the spaceplane’s sixth mission. It has flown more than 1.3 billion miles and spent a total of 3,774 days in space.

The 908-day mission is a new record. The previous record was 780 days.

A lot about this spaceplane and its missions are kept secret. But information was provided on a few of its payloads.

There was a a solar energy experiment designed by the Naval Research Lab. It harnessed solar rays outside of Earth’s atmosphere and aimed to transmit power to the ground in the form of radio frequency microwave energy.

There were also NASA experiments. One of these experiments exposed a variety of materials, including thermal control coatings and printed electronic materials, to the environment of space. There was also an experiment to evaluate the effects of long-duration space exposure on seeds.

“Since the X-37B’s first launch in 2010, it has shattered records and provided our nation with an unrivaled capability to rapidly test and integrate new space technologies,” Jim Chilton, senior vice president at Boeing Space and Launch, said in a statement.

“With the service module added, this was the most we’ve ever carried to orbit on the X-37B and we’re proud to have been able to prove out this new and flexible capability for the government and its industry partners.”

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