Air Force’s experimental space plane returns after record flight

The U.S. Air Force’s experimental X-37B orbital test vehicle returned to Earth on Saturday after a record mission lasting 908 days, beating its previous stay in space by 129 days.

The uncrewed, reusable, Boeing-built space plane landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida, marking the top of its sixth mission, OTV-6, which began on May 17, 2020.

The X-37B orbital test vehicle resembles NASA’s now-decommissioned space shuttle, but at 8.8 meters (29 feet) long, it’s a couple of quarter the length.

U.S. Air Force

This latest mission wasn’t only its longest. It was also the primary X-37B flight to hold a service module, on this case a hoop attached to the rear of the vehicle to extend the variety of experiments that will be hosted during a mission. The module, which allows USAF to supply low-cost space access to more partners, was released from the space plane before landing to take care of the vehicle’s aerodynamic design for secure entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

One in every of the experiments on probably the most recent flight was arrange by the Naval Research Laboratory and focused on converting solar energy into microwave energy, while one other evaluated the flexibility of various materials to resist an area environment.

A 3rd investigation examined the effect of long-duration space exposure on seeds, with a selected give attention to the results of radiation. Discoveries could help to boost space crop production for future interplanetary missions and the establishment of permanently inhabited bases in space, USAF said.

“The X-37B continues to push the boundaries of experimentation, enabled by an elite government and industry team behind the scenes,” said USAF Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Fritschen. “The power to conduct on-orbit experiments and produce them home safely for in-depth evaluation on the bottom has proven invaluable for the Department of the Air Force and scientific community. The addition of the service module on OTV-6 allowed us to host more experiments than ever before.”

USAF describes the first objectives of the X-37B as twofold: “Reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space, and operating experiments which will be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”

Timing details of the space plane’s next mission have yet to be announced.

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