X-37B Orbital Vehicle (Reuters / HO)
The Air Force’s top-secret space plane landed in California on Friday morning after nearly two years orbiting Earth on a classified mission. The robotic spacecraft’s purpose remains a mystery, though surveillance is a likely candidate.
The Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle ‒ an unpiloted aircraft that looks like a miniature space shuttle ‒ made its third landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California after spending more than 670 days in low-Earth orbit.
“I’m extremely proud of our team for coming together to execute this third safe and successful landing,” Col. Keith Balts, commander of the 30th Space Wing that is headquartered at Vandenberg, said in a statement. “Everyone from our on-console space operators to our airfield managers and civil engineers take pride in this unique mission and exemplify excellence during its execution.”
The spacecraft was launched on December 11, 2012 by an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It has since been flying in low-Earth orbit, performing whatever mission the Pentagon had prepared for its third test run. In March, X-37B broke its own space longevity record for staying in orbit. Its two previous rounds in space in 2010 and 2011-2012 lasted 225 and 469 days, respectively. This mission lasted a total of 674 days.
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