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Space & Astronomy

X-37B returns after two-year secret mission

By T.K. Randall
May 7, 2017 · Comment icon 18 comments

What has the X-37B been doing this time ? Image Credit: United States Air Force / Michael Stonecypher
The US Air Force's mysterious space plane has landed in Florida after spending nearly two years in orbit.
The solar-powered space plane, which looks a lot like a miniature version of NASA's space shuttles, had been originally designed to repair satellites before NASA discontinued the project and passed it over to the US Department of Defense back in 2004.

Now following a mission lasting a record-breaking 718 days, the enigmatic vehicle has successfully landed once again at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing as we continue to break barriers," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith.
"Our team has been preparing for this event for several years, and I am extremely proud to see our hard work and dedication culminate in today's safe and successful landing of the X-37B."

Unsurprisingly however, no details of the vehicle's mission have been revealed to the public.

"The hard work of the X-37B OTV team and the 45th Space Wing successfully demonstrated the flexibility and resolve necessary to continue the nation's advancement in space," said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

"The ability to land, refurbish, and launch from the same location further enhances the OTV's ability to rapidly integrate and qualify new space technologies."

Source: | Comments (18)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #9 Posted by and then 7 years ago
It's bound to be making the Russians and Chinese nervous and peeoed.  That alone is worth the program cost  
Comment icon #10 Posted by Hammerclaw 7 years ago
It could be they're plotting wormhole trajectories to Peacekeeper Space.
Comment icon #11 Posted by Frank Merton 7 years ago
It strikes me as rational, not all that expensive, and probably something everyone is doing.
Comment icon #12 Posted by and then 7 years ago
Rational, certainly.  If the other powers are mirroring our efforts they have kept it quiet.  
Comment icon #13 Posted by highdesert50 7 years ago
As the SR-71 program was cancelled, this craft may be filing the void.
Comment icon #14 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 7 years ago
Highly unlikely. A single craft in a low orbit will overfly an area of interest rarely. It was in an orbit inclined roughly 38o to the equator, meaning it could not take images above 38o N or below 38o South... so it could not image much of Russia and China for example. It is too small to obtain high resolution optical images (spy satellites which do that are typically around the size of Hubble). And the NRO already has a large fleet of spy satellites so why would they need a mini-shuttle to do the job expensively and poorly?
Comment icon #15 Posted by Derek Willis 7 years ago
The usual references - Spaceflight magazine etc. - say the flight was to test Hall Effect thrusters (a type of ion thruster) in space over a long duration. 
Comment icon #16 Posted by toast 7 years ago
The craft use hydrazine, which is highly toxic, as propellant. As a precaution, sniffer checks for possible leaks of the hydrazine tank system are performed right after the touchdown. The same procedure took place after landings of the Space Shuttles as well.
Comment icon #17 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 7 years ago
That was one of the payloads on board. There was also a materials experiment from NASA. Most of what it carried remains classified.
Comment icon #18 Posted by and then 6 years ago
Pure conjecture here but in your experience, do you imagine this platform could be a special weapons system to target and destroy satellites?  I'd imagine that a purely kinetic projectile, sans explosives, could cripple a Russian or Chinese satellite in a critical position to deny them intel they might desperately need at some critical juncture?  Depending on the size and composition of such a projectile, it might be invisible to even sophisticated tracking radars.  What do you think, Waspie D?

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