The Secret X-37B Just Landed After 2 Years in Space

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Though the Air Force doesn’t disclose the X-37B’s precise orbit, keen-eyed amateur astronomers have managed to track the vehicle from the ground — and so can you, thanks to their efforts. Check out Space.com’s satellite tracker to see where the X-37B is overhead during a mission. The view won’t be dramatic; the space plane usually looks like a star of middling brightness moving across the sky. More here.

The U.S. Air Force’s top-secret spaceplane, the Boeing X-37B, landed in Florida early Sunday after 780 days—over 2 years and one month—in orbit around the Earth. And we still have no idea what it was doing while it was up there.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-5 (OTV-5) mission was the fifth time that the uncrewed vehicle has flown around the world, beating the duration of the fourth mission, which landed in May of 2017 after 718 days in orbit. This most recent mission launched from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on September 7, 2017.

“The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane,” Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett said in a statement posted online. “Each successive mission advances our nation’s space capabilities.”

What are those capabilities? We don’t know the specifics. But according to the Air Force, the X-37B has the unique ability to “test new systems in space and return them to Earth” and the mission “successfully completed” all of its objectives.

Military leaders, many of whom were previously skeptical of the need for an entirely new branch of the armed services, appear to be excited about President Donald Trump’s Space Force and the way that the X-37B might play a role in that branch of the military. At least that’s the gist you get reading the Air Force’s press release.

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

This latest mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on October 27, 2019, at 3:51 a.m. The last time this spaceplane came back to Earth there was video of the landing. This time, however, there was no video, perhaps because the landing took place in the predawn hours.

“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.”

The Air Force says it plans to launch the sixth X-37B mission from CCAFS in 2020. And you can bet good money we won’t know much about that launch either.

What do you think they were doing up there? A couple of missions ago, something like “aliens” may have been a ridiculous guess. But we’ve sure learned a lot about U.S. military contact with unidentified flying objects since this mission first launched in September of 2017.

I’m not saying they’re flying aliens around in a super-secret Air Force spaceplane. But they’re probably flying aliens around in a super-secret Air Force spaceplane.

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