The United States Air Force announced that an unmanned, reusable space plane called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle had returned to Earth on june 16th after spending 469 days in orbit. The Test Vehicle touched down on a runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif, at 5:48 a.m. The Air Force says the vehicle spent time on the orbit conducting onboard experiments and its primary mission of checking out the vehicle itself.
But in a statement, the Air Force said the autonomous landing by the nation’s “newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft” was executed “safely and successfully.”
“With the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, the X-37B OTV program brings a singular capability to space technology development,” Air Force Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, X-37B program manager, said in the statement. “The return capability allows the Air Force to test new technologies without the same risk commitment faced by other programs. We’re proud of the entire team’s successful efforts to bring this mission to an outstanding conclusion.”
“The vehicle was designed for a mission duration of about 270 days,” said Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, the X-37B program manager. “We knew from post-flight assessments from the first mission that OTV-1 could have stayed in orbit longer. So one of the goals of this mission was to see how much farther we could push the on-orbit duration.”
The spacecraft was first launched in 2006, it was originally a NASA initiative and was later transferred to DARPA. The spacecraft measures 29 feet long, wingspan of just 14 feet and weighs about 11,000 pounds. The initial of test flight, details about the program’s just-concluded second mission are classified.
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