Space

X-37B secret spaceplane returns after record-breaking flight

X-37B secret spaceplane return...
The X-37B OTV is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the US Air Force
The X-37B OTV is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the US Air Force
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The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility Oct. 27, 2019
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The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility Oct. 27, 2019
The X-37B OTV is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the US Air Force
2/2
The X-37B OTV is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the US Air Force

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.

The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility Oct. 27, 2019
The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility Oct. 27, 2019

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

4 comments
vk5cp
If it is an unmanned plane - why are there people is space suits walking away from it?
paul314
Not space suits but hazmat suits. Just as with the space shuttle, some of the maneuvering system propellants are seriously toxic. For the shuttle, those systems had to be safed before crew could exit; for this thing, I expect before regular engineers can come to play with the payload and other systems.
buzzclick
vk5cp, I believe those people are wearing special suits to avoid any chance of contamination. Unmanned space flight---no astronauts to worry about, everything programmed to get done with loads of time and fully controlled from terra firma---that would be very cool if it wasn't used to develop "Space Force" technology for future star wars. The lines are blurring between reality and shoot-em-up Hollywood movies/video games for something quite serious and potentially deadly.
QuickBrownFox
I agree with paul314's explanation for the hazmat suites. Check out the Wikipedia article on hypergolic propellant. The X-37 page also mentions them. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypergolic_propellant https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-37