Air Force space plane returns from its latest mission

14 Oct

From 8 a.m to 5 p.m Vandenberg Air Force base in California will be closed as they prepare for a special visitor. It is not a politician or some high ranking military officer. It is the return of the United States Air Force’s secretive unmanned space plane.

“Team Vandenberg stands ready to implement safe landing operations for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, the third time for this unique mission,” Col. Keith Baits, commander of the 30th Space Wing, said in a statement.

Today’s landing will complete the third mission of the two Boeing built x-37 series space drones. The mission began in December 11, 2012 when it blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. When the craft launched it was suppose to be a 9 month mission that would have had it coming back to Earth in July or August of 2013. The unknown mission was later extended to the current 22 month long journey.

The X-37B “is designed to demonstrate reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth,” an Air Force statement said. They later added, “Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing.”

The previous mission for the x-37 lifted off from Cape Canaveral on March 5, 2011. That mission lasted 469 days until the space plane landed at Vandenberg Air Force base on June 17, 2012. Prior to that mission the x-37 was launched on April 7, 2010 and returned to Earth on December 3, 2010. Both of those missions were also a closely guarded secret by the U.S. Air Force.

Speculation of the purpose of these missions have ranged from repairs on our satellites to spying. What is known is that the equipment the x-37 carries can easily be re-calibrated for each mission. The drone can also be maneuvered to change its orbit during its missions.

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