The U.S. Air Force announced this past week that their secretive space plane, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, will be landing soon after now having spent 453 days in Earth orbit. This is only the second test flight of the X-37B, which first flew in 2010 for 225 days. Launched again on March 5, 2011, by the 30th Space Wing team at Vandenberg Air Force Base, the second test mission was originally scheduled to last only 270 days. Unlike the recent Dragon space vehicle which splashed down in the Pacific Ocean,the 29-foot long robotic space shuttle will land like an airplane, though an exact date has yet to be announced.
There is considerable speculation about what the real mission of the X-37B is? The Air Force prefers to just call the space plane a test platform, which is capable of serving multiple roles. The ship′s small payload-cargo bay, which carries a large solar power array, can be equipped with a variety of optional devices. Reconnaissance would seem to be the craft′s primary purpose, while it may also be used used to augment communications as a relay satellite, or possibly even deploy some form of weaponry.
Recently, the National Reconnaissance Office, NRO, which with the help of the CIA and Air Force operates and manages our nation′s spy satellites, have turned over to NASA two such spacecraft which are larger than the Hubble Space Telescope and are said to have far better optical systems. Even nicer still is that NASA got these space telescopes for free, though who knows how much we taxpayers have spent on them? So could this move be due to the success of the X-37B?
Whatever the case, the secretive space plane, the X-37B, will finally be returning to Earth. The team at Vandenberg Air Force Base′s 30th Space Wing will not give an exact date for when the craft will land, but so far the Orbital Test Vehicle has spent some 453 days in space. Just like the Space Shuttle, the X-37B will land like an airplane on a runway as opposed to splashing down in the Pacific Ocean like the recent Dragon capsule built by Space X.