X-37B Space Plane Returns from Mysterious Mission
Robotic X-37B space plane returns to Earth after more than 15 months orbiting the planet
Source: NASA Artist Rendering
LOS ANGELES, CA - The Space Shuttle may be out of operation, but while China is launching humans into space, the US Air Force has landed their X-37B space plane. It landed at at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base at8:48 a.m. EDT (248 GMT).
"Team Vandenberg has put in over a year's worth of hard work in preparation for this landing and today we were able to see the fruits of our labor," said Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander at Vandenberg on the base's website.
"I am so proud of our team for coming together to execute this landing operation safely and successfully."
The X-37B space plane was in orbit for a total of 469 days, much longer than originally planned.
Mike Wall at Space.com recently wrote at the Huffington Post:
Exactly what the spacecraft, which is built by Boeing's Phantom Works division, was doing up there for so long is a secret. The details of the X-37B's mission, which is overseen by the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office, are classified, as is its payload.
This secrecy has led to some speculation, especially online and abroad, that the X-37B could be a space weapon of some sort — perhaps a sophisticated satellite-killer. Some experts also suspect that the vehicle may be an orbital spy platform.
The unmanned spacecraft looks quite a bit like a smaller version of the Space Shuttle. About 2 X-37B spacecraft could fit into the old Space Shuttle, which cost around half a billion dollars to launch. The new X-37B is a lot smaller and a lot less expensive to get into space.
Some are wondering if it might be a space based weapon of some sort, although officials are trying to be clear that it is no such thing.
"This is a test vehicle to prove the materials and capabilities, to put experiments in space and bring them back and check out the technologies," Richard McKinney, the Air Force's deputy undersecretary for space programs, said shortly after OTV-1 landed in December 2010.
"My words to others who might read anything else into that is, 'Just listen to what we're telling you,'" McKinney added. "This is, pure and simple, a test vehicle so we can prove technologies and capabilities."