X-37B returns to orbit


December 11, 2012

The X-37B OTV-1 launching from Cape Canaveral

The X-37B OTV-1 launching from Cape Canaveral

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A US Air Force X-37B unmanned space plane was launched on its second mission today. The vehicle was sent into low-earth orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 41 atop an Atlas V rocket at 1:03 p.m. EST (1803 GMT). This mission, designated OTV-3, is the first time an X-37B has returned to orbit.

The 29-foot long (8.8 m) Boeing-built X-37B was first launched in April 2010 and returned to Earth in December of that year after a mission lasting over 220 days and became the first unmanned spacecraft to land on a runway autonomously. This year, its sister vehicle set the orbital duration record for a reusable space vehicle when it landed after 469 days in space.

As with the previous two X-37B flights, the US Air Force is not forthcoming about details the payload, mission or flight duration of the classified spacecraft. However, Paul Rusnock, vice president of Boeing Government Space Systems, said, "The second mission for [X-37B] demonstrates the vehicle is capable of multiple missions and affordable access to space."

Source: Boeing

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David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

A little more success and they will have to rename it because it will no longer be an experimental craft.


Bitchin for USA!! It is not experimental, it is operational, aloft for fifteen months? on the first flight? yeah experimental . uhhhuh

Bill Bennett

could make an awesome manned vehicle someday .


you know a lot of folks are speculating on what the x-37b is about. Actually, it's simple. It is a technology retention program. the space shuttle was the most advanced spacecraft on the planet. The x-37b is to ensure the US does not lose that capability. Oh, sure they'll put some instruments in it and look at stuff, but the the main capability is an advanced capability spacecraft that has flexible payload delivery and fly-back landing capability. Oh yeah, make sure it is scalable, so if we want one with space shuttle level capability, we can make a bigger one for big payload delivery and return.

Look we can never do a Hubble repair type mission, unless we have a spacecraft with space shuttle level capabilities. Is it realistic to think that the US DoD is going to just walk away from that kind of capability? Why do you think the x-37b is a black program?

Just sayin' it's not all that mysterious.....


Didn't the soviet Built Buran accomplish the unmanned landing back in 88 ?

Paul Mendoza

Buran did do an unmanned landing, but I believe it was ground controlled, not autonomous. It also only did it once. What I wonder is whether it cost less to refurbish and reset for a relaunch, then it would to build a new one from scratch. That is what make reusability valuable. The headline would have been funnier if it had said "Factory Refurbished X37b returns to space"

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