X-37B Military Space Plane Breaks Record on Latest Mystery Mission

  • X-37B Military Space Plane Breaks Record on Latest Mystery Mission

X-37B Military Space Plane Breaks Record on Latest Mystery Mission

The current mission has no specified end date, according to Air Force spokesman Major William Russell.

The spacecraft on September 7, 2019 will complete two years orbiting the Earth for reasons unknown. And OTV-4 landed in May 2017 after almost 718 days in orbit.

Regardless of what the plane's mission is, it was initially only designed for an orbit window of 270 days, so the fact that it's been able to more than double that time is a pretty big win for solar-powered aircraft.

What is known is that the military is using the planes to develop reusable spaceflight technology.

"Space-to-space surveillance is a whole new ball game made possible by a finessed group of sensors and sensor suites, which we think the X-37B may be using to maintain a close watch on China's nascent space station", Spaceflight Editor Dr David Baker told BBC News back in 2012, though this too was deemed unlikely based on the ship's orbital path.

The X-37B is also popular among space fans because of its unique design.

The US military has launched five uncrewed X-37B spaceplanes into orbit over the past decade, and each flight has been longer than its predecessor.

"It seems to me like they're treating this thing as a satellite that they can easily bring back to Earth, fix or modify, and then redeploy..." It has been in "active orbit" since conducting missions for the Air Force, which has remained largely classified to ensure success. The nature of those experiments are - you guessed it - also top secret.

The spaceplane orbits the Earth at an altitude of about 320km (under 200 miles), lower than the International Space Station, which necessitates more manoeuvers and fuel to maintain its position, fueling speculation that it is helping the USAF to create smaller, better-performing micro spy satellites capable of "disappearing" into the ether at a moment's notice. There's plenty of precedence - in the United States and overseas - for both types of projects.

We know, for example, that the X-37B is about 29 feet long, launches vertically on a rocket, and lands like an airplane or the now-retired space shuttles. This has been the case since the OTV-2 staying in flight for 468 days, considerably longer than the OTV-1's flight time of 224 days.

Four previous X-37B missions have been launched by United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets.

All of the planes were built for the USA military by Boeing. The financial terms of the contracts are unknown.