Air Force releases the first images of the X-37B

Pablo Tucker
October 28, 2019

It was the fifth flight in the secretive Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) program, pushing total time aloft to 2,865 days.

As ever, the biggest question surrounding the Air Force's space plane concerned what it was up to during its long flight in low-Earth orbit.

'It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community'.

The 11,000-pound vehicle is about 29 feet long with a wingspan of just under 15 feet and was created to stay in orbit for 270 days.

"This program continues to push the envelope as the (Air Force's) only reusable space vehicle", Randy Walden, director of the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office, said in a statement. It further enables the more efficiently and effectively develop space capabilities. This is necessary to maintain an advantage in the space domain. An unmanned X-37B space plane landed Sunday after more than two years in orbit.

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.

The United States Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein stated that after the mission broke its own endurance record the spacecraft's safe return was the result of the innovative partnership between the US Government and Industry.

The Pentagon, increasingly reliant on space technologies, recently created the US Space Command and is asking Congress to approve funding for a proposed Space Force, which would serve as a new branch of the military.

The Air Force's statement, although not giving much detail as to the nature of the many experiments the X-37B had performed, only fueled those speculation.

Touchdown at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida came at 3:51 a.m. ET (12:51 a.m. PT), the Air Force said in a statement. Walden said the latest mission "successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites".

This is the second time the X-37B landed at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility. They were originally created to spend 240 days in orbit, but with the latest flight - and a previous one that went for 718 days - they have tripled their expected endurance.

"I am pleased to see the X-37B land safely back in Florida and congratulate the Air Force and the men and women who support this program on the completion of this successful mission", Senator Marco Rubio said.

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