US Air Force's Secretive X-37B Space Plane Nears Day 500 in Orbit
By Leonard David
The U.S. Air Force's mysterious robotic X-37B space plane is sailing toward the 500-day mark in Earth orbit on a secret military mission.
The X-37B space plane presently in orbit is carrying out the Orbital Test Vehicle 3 (OTV-3) mission, a classified spaceflight that marks the third long-duration flight for the unmanned Air Force spaceflight program. The miniature space shuttle launched on Dec. 11, 2012.
The record-breaking X-37B mission now underway uses the first of the Air Force's two robotic space plane vehicles. This same space plane flew the first-ever X-37B mission (the 225-day OTV-1 flight in 2010), and a second vehicle flew the longer OTV-2 mission in 2011, chalking up 469 days in orbit.
X-37B space planes launch into orbit atop an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket from a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The first two space-plane missions flew back to Earth on autopilot, each time touching down on a tarmac at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Earlier this year, the X-37B supplier Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems announced plans to consolidate space-plane operations by using NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a landing site for the space plane. . . .
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