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US Air Force’s X-37B Military Spaceplane Lands After Spending Record 780 Days In Orbit

The US Air Force’s unpiloted X-37B military plane came back to earth after spending a record 780 days in space. The plane landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida after breaking its own record of 717 days, 20 hours and 42 minutes. The mission was launched on September 7, 2017, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This was the fifth flight mission of the Air Force under the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) program. “The safe return of this spaceplane, roughly the size of a small bus, after breaking its own record is the result of the innovative partnership between the Industry and government,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. The mission was managed by the Washington-based Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

X-37B spacecraft, built by Boeing, is a reusable plane and both have flown multiple flights. It has a miniature payload bay to host smaller satellites or experiments. It shares many design features with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Space Shuttle. “The X-37B spacecraft continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable space plane and each successive mission improves our nation’s space capabilities,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett said in the same statement.

The unmanned reusable aircraft has so far spent 2,865 days in space across five flights to conduct the various classified tests under a long-duration space environment. Though the Air Force has never talked about the mission, it dropped hints about types of test OTV-5 performed in the orbit. According to a statement issued by Air Force, one of the payloads was the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader. This was an experiment designed to test oscillating heat pipe technologies and experimental electronics in the long-duration space environment. According to reports, the space plane this time flew to a higher inclination orbit, hinting it had new technology tests or experiments in store. US Air Force officials have confirmed that the X-37B flight carried smaller satellites and multiple experiments into orbit.

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