Air Force's X-37B spaceplane back on Earth after 780-day mission

  • Air Force's X-37B spaceplane back on Earth after 780-day mission

Air Force's X-37B spaceplane back on Earth after 780-day mission

The US Air Force is clearly attempting to push space technology as far as possible, and they are doing that with the Boeing-made space plane X-37B.

Officially, the spaceplane conducted in-orbit experiments during its stay, but predictably the Air Force does not say what those experiments were all about.

The X-37B Orbit Test Vehicle is the Air Force's reusable and unmanned spacecraft, which enables scientists and engineers to recover experiments tested in a long-duration space environment, according to the Air Force.

"The distinctive ability to test new systems in space and return them to Earth is unique to the X-37B program and enables the USA to more efficiently and effectively develop space capabilities necessary to maintain superiority in the space domain".

'With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives.

According to US Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett: "Each successive mission advances our nation's space capabilities".

"This program continues to expand the limits of the only reusable space vehicle in the world". Mission 4 landed at Kennedy Space Center May 7, 2017, after 718 days in orbit. The X-37B executed a ground-commanded deorbit burn early Sunday to target landing at the Kennedy Space Center, then performed a series of banking maneuvers during re-entry to dissipate speed before lining up with the shuttle-era runway near Cape Canaveral. McDowell said in a tweet that the X-37B flight's deployment of small satellites is alarming since the U.S. has not reported those deployments in its UN Registration Convention submissions.

The next X-37B launch is set for 2020.

Space News was able to get a description of one of the experiments on OTV-5.

The Air Force has provided some hints about its program.

One of the experiments is known to have tested the long-term performance of oscillating heat pipes, which could provide a low-priced way to cool high-powered electronics in orbit. This was the fifth mission for the secretive vehicle, which was constructed by Boeing, NPR reported. Reusable space planes such as the X-37B and rapid-launch capabilities are among the needs the military sees as it confronts space as a "warfighting" domain in the 21st century.

The space plane is 29 feet (8.8 metres) long, 9.6 feet (2.9 metres) tall and weighs around 11,000 lbs.