The second Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 5:48 a.m. Pacific time on Saturday, marking the successful completion of its first flight. Being developed for the Rapid Capabilities Office of the U.S. Air Force, the X-37B is intended to demonstrate the capabilities of reusable unmanned spacecraft in the wake of the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet.
The successful first flight of OTV-2 comes on the back of the first flight of the first X-37B, OTV-1, in 2010, which saw that craft become the United States’ first unmanned vehicle to return from space and land on its own. Whereas that mission lasted 220 days, the OTV-2 mission was extended to 469 days and involved the testing of additional capabilities.
Sick of Ads?
Join more than 500 New Atlas Plus subscribers who read our newsletter and website without ads.
It's just US$19 a year.More Information
Although it relies on the same lifting body design of the Space Shuttle and features a similar landing profile, the X-37B is around a quarter the size. It is also built using lighter composite structures rather than traditional aluminum and sees the debut of a new generation of high-temperature wing leading-edge tiles known as toughened uni-piece fibrous refractory oxidation-resistant ceramic (TUFROC) tiles.
Combining the best attributes of an aircraft and a spacecraft, the X-35B is designed to be launched like a satellite and land like an airplane. There are no hydraulics onboard and all avionics are designed to automate all de-orbit and landing functions. The X-37B OTV is designed to operate in low-earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 110 to 500 miles (177 to 805 km) above the Earth at a speed of around 17,500 mph (28,164 km/h).
To further demonstrate the affordability and reliability of the X-37B, a second launch of OTV-1 is planned for later this year.
Source: BoeingView gallery - 3 images