X-37B secret spaceplane returns after record-breaking flight
The US Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 (OTV-5) has come to an end as the unmanned spaceplane made a surprise pre-dawn landing. At 3:51 am EDT on October 27, the highly-classified reusable craft touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida after a record-breaking 780-day flight.
On September 7, 2017, the fifth X-37B mission lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Today's landing was the second time the X-37B has landed at the Kennedy Space Center, the first being OTV-4.
Like the previous four missions, the exact purpose of the flight was a secret, though the Air Force says in a statement that its general goals were "risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies", as well as the deployment of some small satellites.
OTV-5 saw the X-37B break its own endurance record of 718 days in orbit before returning to Earth like a miniature space shuttle. In all, the program has clocked up a total of 2,865 days in space. The hope is that the new technologies and methods developed for the flights will help the Air Force and the proposed US Space Force to maintain dominance in space.
"This program continues to push the envelope as the world’s only reusable space vehicle," says Randy Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. "With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives. This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites."
The next X-37B mission (OTV-6) is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral in 2020.
Source: US Air Force