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Second X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle touches down


June 17, 2012

The X-37B features a similar design to the Space Shuttle but is around a quarter of the size of that craft

The X-37B features a similar design to the Space Shuttle but is around a quarter of the size of that craft

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The second Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 5:48 a.m. Pacific time on Saturday, marking the successful completion of its first flight. Being developed for the Rapid Capabilities Office of the U.S. Air Force, the X-37B is intended to demonstrate the capabilities of reusable unmanned spacecraft in the wake of the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet.

The successful first flight of OTV-2 comes on the back of the first flight of the first X-37B, OTV-1, in 2010, which saw that craft become the United States’ first unmanned vehicle to return from space and land on its own. Whereas that mission lasted 220 days, the OTV-2 mission was extended to 469 days and involved the testing of additional capabilities.

Although it relies on the same lifting body design of the Space Shuttle and features a similar landing profile, the X-37B is around a quarter the size. It is also built using lighter composite structures rather than traditional aluminum and sees the debut of a new generation of high-temperature wing leading-edge tiles known as toughened uni-piece fibrous refractory oxidation-resistant ceramic (TUFROC) tiles.

Combining the best attributes of an aircraft and a spacecraft, the X-35B is designed to be launched like a satellite and land like an airplane. There are no hydraulics onboard and all avionics are designed to automate all de-orbit and landing functions. The X-37B OTV is designed to operate in low-earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 110 to 500 miles (177 to 805 km) above the Earth at a speed of around 17,500 mph (28,164 km/h).

To further demonstrate the affordability and reliability of the X-37B, a second launch of OTV-1 is planned for later this year.

Source: Boeing

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Double it's size, put 2 returning ramjets, fuel pod under it and launch it from a 747 wingset and you'd really have something that costs 1/4 to launch.


Reusable reentry vehicles should spend as little time in orbit as possible to limit the exposure of the heat shields to debris.

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