Secret Space Plane is Back

X-37B returns to Earth after 7-month mission

X-37B

X-37B

The winged craft autonomously landed at this California coastal air base 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Vandenburg spokesman Jeremy Eggers said.

“It’s very exciting,” Eggers said of the 1:16 a.m. Pacific time landing.

The X-37B was launched by an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on April 22, with a maximum mission duration of 270 days.

Also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, the Boeing-built spacecraft was originally a NASA project before being taken over by the military.

The Air Force has not said whether it carried anything in its cargo bay, but it insists the primary purpose of the mission was to test the craft itself.

7 months seems like a long time for a craft test, but who knows what the long-term plan will be.

Regardless, Murdoc hopes it did all sorts of super secret stuff, the mission was a complete success, and someday we read about it and are impressed.

Word is that it will fly again next spring.

UPDATE: Toejam points out a great photo gallery in the comments. Here are a couple:

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 1

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 1

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 1

Go check out the full gallery for more.

Interestingly, the gallery says that the Air Force has ordered a second X-37B and that the new one, Orbital Test Vehicle 2, will be the one to fly next spring. I wonder if it’s one and done for OTV 1, or if it needs to be modified after the initial test flight. Could be that lessons learned building OTV 1 have resulted in a lighter/better OTV 2, or maybe OTV 1 has a lot of extra sensors and monitoring gear that weighs it down.

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