Air Force X-37B Orbital Space Vehicle Comes In
For A Landing
June 18, 2012 - The Air Force's unmanned,
reusable space plane landed in the early morning
of June 16 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.,
a successful conclusion to a record setting test
flight mission that began March 5 from Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, one of two such
vehicles, spent 469 days in orbit to conduct
on-orbit experiments, primarily checkout of the
"The vehicle was designed for a mission duration
of about 270 days," said Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre,
the X-37B program manager. "We knew from
post-flight assessments from the first mission
that OTV-1 could have stayed in orbit longer. So
one of the goals of this mission was to see how
much farther we could push the on-orbit
Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities
Office, the X-37B program performs risk
reduction, experimentation, and concept of
operations development for reusable space
vehicle technologies. The X-37B mission is the
longest space mission only after the NASA
Discovery shuttle program.
The Air Force's unmanned, reusable space plane
landed in the early morning of June 16 at
Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., a successful
conclusion to a record-setting test-flight
mission that began March 5 from Cape Canaveral
Air Force Station, Fla.
The 11,000-pound state-of-the-art vehicle, which
is about a fourth the size of the shuttle,
allows space technology experts to continue
sending up experiments, with results returning
safely to Earth for study.
"With the retirement of the space shuttle fleet,
the X-37B OTV program brings a singular
capability to space technology development,"
McIntyre said. "The return capability allows the
Air Force to test new technologies without the
same risk commitment faced by other programs."
The vehicle was initially a NASA initiative, but
was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency in 2004. When it first launched
in 2006, it was lauded for its cutting-edge
technologies, such as the auto de-orbit
capability, thermal protection tiles, and
high-temperature components and seals.
"The X-37B's advanced thermal protection and
solar power systems, and environmental modeling
and range safety technologies are just some of
the technologies being tested," said McIntyre.
"Each mission helps us continue to advance the
state-of-the-art in these areas."