USAF X-37B Plane Comes Home After Record 2+ Years in Space

Katie Ramirez
October 29, 2019

The top secret X-37B spaceplane landed in Florida yesterday following a record-long orbital flight lasting more than two years, the US Air Force said, completing the latest test mission for an array of cutting-edge military tech.

The most recent 780-day mission is the longest time the X-37B has been deployed; its fourth mission, OTV-4, landed on 7 May 2017 after 718 days in orbit.

The 29-foot-long place is about a quarter size of a space shuttle.

The Air Force said it will launch a sixth mission of the space plane sometime in 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The planes were designed for a 270-day mission duration in orbit but have now almost tripled that time frame. Space.com noted that most of its payloads remain classified.

Over the entire program (five flights), the X-27B spent 2,865 days in orbit.

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Officials have revealed few details about the OTV-5 mission (the aircraft's fifth) but according to the Air Force, one on board OTV-5 payload is United States thermal spreader which will test the longevity of electronics and heat pipes in the space environment. The X-37B is created to serve as a platform for experiments and to offer insights on transporting satellite sensors and other equipment to and from space. This particular vehicle, actually the second X-37B, has already flown three times now. Reusable space planes such as the X-37B and rapid-launch capabilities are among the needs the military sees as it confronts space as a "warfighting" domain in the 21st century. According to the service, the X-37B is exploring the practicalities and risks of "reusable space vehicle technologies" while also experimenting with space technology.

Little is known about what it was carrying but on board OTV-5's payload was a U.S. thermal spreader which tests the longevity of electronics and heat pipes in the space environment. This was the X-37B's fifth space mission. One experiment was to "test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long-duration space environment", according to the Air Force statement.

The Air Force is thought to have at least two of the robotic space planes, which were built by Boeing as part of a project that started out under NASA's wing but was transferred to the Pentagon in 2004.

'This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites'.

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