X37B, the US Air Force’s unmanned aircraft, is back to Earth after a two-year-long secret mission in space.
Manufactured by Boeing and launched using United Launch Alliance (ULA)- built carrier rocket Atlas 5, the X37B stayed in the space for 718 days for experimenting various aspects of the unspecified secret mission of the US military. This was the lengthiest mission in the series of missions by the X37B and was managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.
There haven’t been any official revelations by the Air Force about the details of the objective behind mission. However, the Air Force mentioned that research on aspects like risk reduction, operations efficiency, feasibility of the reusable space vehicle technologies were carried out.
US Air Force spokesperson did say that the tests included advance guidance system with navigation and control system, thermal-protection systems, avionics, reusable components efficiency check, high temperature system, electro-mechanical flight systems along with automated flights testing.
US Air force owns two X37B aircraft, sized 29 feet long and 15 feet wing span, which resemble the former NASA’s space shuttle orbiter. The launching orientation of the X37B is vertical; however it follows a normal horizontal runway landing process.
This is the fourth mission carried out by the US Air Force. X37B, also known as OTV (Orbital test Vehicle): first was carried out in April 2010 which lasted for eight months. This mission was continued with second flight taking off in March 2011, lasting for around 15 months, followed by the third one in December 2012 continuing for 22 months before setting off for the fourth time in April 2015.
It was the first landing that took place in Florida of the four landings of X37B, the other three landing at the Vandenberg Air Force base in California. This series of secret mission will still mark one more voyage later this year from the Kennedy Space Center.