Published: Tue, October 29, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Secretive military spaceplane lands in Florida after record-long orbital flight

Secretive military spaceplane lands in Florida after record-long orbital flight

The U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane landed today after spending a record-setting 780 days in orbit testing hush-hush technologies for long-duration spaceflight. The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission successfully landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre Shuttle Landing Facility at 3:51 a.m. on October 27.

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

The X-37B spaceplane, roughly the size of a small bus, shares many design features with NASA's Space Shuttle.

The fifth mission launched on September 7, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on-board a Space X Falcon 9 booster, and the U.S. Air Force is preparing to launch the sixth X-37B mission from CCAFS in 2020.

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. Space.com noted that most of its payloads remain classified.

The Air Force is thought to have at least two of the robotic space planes, which were built by Boeing as part of a project that started out under NASA's wing but was transferred to the Pentagon in 2004.

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"This spacecraft is a key component of the space community", Lt. Col. Jonathan Keen, X-37B program manager, said in the Air Force statement. Barret added, "Each successive mission advances our nation's space capabilities".

The Air Force's statement, although not giving much detail as to the nature of the many experiments performed by the X-37B, only fueled such speculation. But we've sure learned a lot about USA military contact with unidentified flying objects since this mission first launched in September of 2017.

US Air Force recently announced that it broke the record for the longest endurance flight.

It is one of two reusable, unmanned X-37B models that are capable of performing multiple long-term flights to and from orbit. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director Randy Walden said that "this program continues to push the envelope as the world's only reusable space vehicle". As of today, the total number of days spent on-orbit for the entire test vehicle program is 2,865 days.

Mr Walden also acknowledged the space plane deployed "small satellites". This experiment will measure the long term performance of an oscillating heat pipe on orbit. In this case, nearly all of this mission was reusable, as the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage landed safely shortly after its launch.

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