Dec 5, 2013
Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Nears One Year In Orbit
The U.S. Air Force's mysterious X-37B space plane is nearing a major milestone — one year of travel in Earth orbit, performing duties in support of long-term space objectives.
The unmanned X-37B spacecraft — flying a mission known as Orbital Test Vehicle 3 (OTV-3) — launched into space atop an Atlas 5 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 11, 2012. What payloads the space plane is toting and the overall mission goals on its confidential cruise are classified.
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is an unmanned space test vehicle for the USAF.
But it is known that the OTV-3 mission signals a milestone for the X-37B program.
This same vehicle was flown on the X-37B program's inaugural flight back in 2010. That OTV-1 mission lasted nearly 225 days in orbit, gliding back to Earth on autopilot over the Pacific Ocean and touching down at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
An OTV-2 mission, which used a different X-37B space plane, was lofted in 2011. That vehicle flew for 469 days, more than doubling its sister ship’s space stay, concluding its mission by also making a Vandenberg landing.