The Air Force's Secretive Space Plane Lands After 780 Days in Orbit

The Air Force announced its orbital test vehicle landed in Florida Sunday after spending a record 780 days in orbit.
Donna Fuscaldo
The Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle X-37B/Air Force 

The U.S. Air Force's super secretive X-37B space plane landed in Flordia Sunday, completing an orbital flight that lasted a record 780 days. 

The Air Force announced the unmanned X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Land Facility on 27 October at 3:51 a.m. It's the Air Force's fifth mission under its Orbital Test Vehicle program. 


Previous secretive mission lasted 718 days 

The X-37B, which is managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, performs risk reduction, experimentation, and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies, the Air Force said in a press release announcing the return of the orbital test vehicle.

The X-37B's fourth mission lasted 718 days, with the space plane landing in 2017. The space plan is about the size of a bus and includes similar technology and designs found in NASA's Space Shuttle. The fifth mission launched in September of 2017. The Air Force is preparing for the sixth mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in 2020. The space program has been in operations for 2,865 days, the Air Force said in the press release. 

“This program continues to push the envelope as the world’s only reusable space vehicle. With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives,” said Randy Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director. “This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites.”

Pentagon pushing for the Space Force 

The Pentagon has been increasingly using space technologies and has asked Congress to give it their blessing and funding for a new branch of the military to be called the Space Force.  In June President Donald Trump signed the Space Policy Directive-3 which called on the Pentagon to begin creating the 6th independent military service branch. They would undertake missions and operations in space. If it was created it would be the first new branch of the military in more than 70 years. The last new branch to be created was the Air Force back in 1947. 

“The safe return of this spacecraft, after breaking its own endurance record, is the result of the innovative partnership between government and industry,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in the release. “The sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the U.S. Space Force.” 

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