U.S. Air Force’s Secretive X-37B Spaceplane Lands After Record Breaking 780 Days in Orbit

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility at 3:51 a.m on Oct. 27, the service announced.

The secretive spaceplane conducted on-orbit experiments for 780 days during its mission, recently breaking its own record by being in orbit for more than two years. The spaceplane was originally designed for an on-orbit duration of 270 days.

This was the second time the X-37B landed at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility–Mission 4 landed after 718 days in orbit. As of today, the total number of days spent on-orbit for the entire test vehicle program is 2,865 days.

The fifth mission of the spaceplane (OTV-5), designated USA-277 in orbit, was launched on Sept. 7, 2017, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on-board a Space X Falcon 9 rocket.

The U.S. Air Force is preparing to launch the sixth X-37B mission on-board Atlas V 501 rocket from CCAFS in 2020.

X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), is a reusable and unmanned spacecraft managed by the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. It is boosted into space by a launch vehicle, then re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and lands as a spaceplane.

Built by Boeing’s Phantom Works division, each spaceship has a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.5 meters) and a length of more than 29 feet (8.9 meters). It is a 120%-scaled derivative of the earlier Boeing X-40.

Most of the activities of the X-37B project are secret. The official Air Force statement is that the project is “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force”.

Quotes:

“The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett. “Each successive mission advances our nation’s space capabilities.”

“The safe return of this spacecraft, after breaking its own endurance record, is the result of the innovative partnership between Government and Industry,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “The sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the U.S. Space Force.”

“This program continues to push the envelope as the world’s only reusable space vehicle. With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives,” said Randy Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. “This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites.”

“This spacecraft is a key component of the space community. This milestone demonstrates our commitment to conducting experiments for America’s future space exploration,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Keen, X-37B program manager. “Congratulations to the X-37B team for a job well done.”

“Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing,” said Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, 45th Space Wing commander. “Our team has been preparing for this event, and I am extremely proud to see their hard work and dedication culminate in today’s safe and successful landing of the X-37B.”



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