Mysterious Military Space Plane Hits Record 719 Days in Orbit

Mysterious Military Space Plane Hits Record 719 Days in Orbit

The Air Force has successfully flown four X-37B missions, OTV-1 through OTV-4, beginning with its first launch on April 22, 2010 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

It launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

We have recently heard about one of these classified projects, and the news comes from the U.S Air Force regarding their "X-37B" Space Plane.

"The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold; reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth", Air Force officials wrote in the X-37B fact sheet.

The experiments include "advanced guidance, navigation, and control", "thermal protection systems", "high temperature structures and seals", "conformal reusable insulation", and "autonomous orbital flight, reentry, and landing".

With each flight mission launched, the X-37B has remained in orbit for longer periods of time as the Air Force looks to push its endurance. OTV-2 ran for 468 days, from March 2011 through June 2012.

However, OTV-5 is nowhere near the overall spaceflight-duration record. Earth-observation and communications satellites commonly operate for five years or more, as do robotic planetary explorers. Currently, NASA's Curiosity rover has been exploring the surface of Mars for over seven years.

The spaceplane orbits the Earth at an altitude of about 320km (under 200 miles), lower than the International Space Station, which necessitates more manoeuvers and fuel to maintain its position, fueling speculation that it is helping the USAF to create smaller, better-performing micro spy satellites capable of "disappearing" into the ether at a moment's notice. The space plane's payload bay is about the size of a pickup-truck bed. The spacecraft was launched on September 7, 2017 and since then, the "mini space shuttle" has been revolving around the Earth.

In 2017, when the previous mission's spacecraft landed, the Air Force released some of the few public images of the X-37B.

An Air Force Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) broke its previous record for continuous flight, floating above Earth for 719 days, two days longer than its previous voyage.

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