Source : May 7, 2017. U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS
The X-37B space plane owned by the United States military returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre on Sunday in Florida after completion of its top secret mission of two years as reported by the Air Force.
With the looks of a space shuttle, the unmanned plane landed at 7: 47 am on the runway which was previously used for space shuttle landings that have long been suspended.
It was in 2015 when the space plane built by Boeing fired off from the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, attached to the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket, as a result of a partnership between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Being one of the two shuttles from the Air Force fleet, the X-37B carried out undisclosed experiments for over a span of 700 days in the orbit. This made its journey the lengthiest venture of the very secretive program and fourth in line of the missions handled by Airforce Rapid Capabilities Office.
Risk reduction, operational concept development for reusable space vehicle technologies and other experimentations were carried out by orbiters, revealed the Air Force without any other details about any of the procedures. Even the cost of the program was not shared as it was labeled classified.
A nonprofit group encouraging peaceful and nonviolent exploration of space, The Secure World Foundation remarked at the secrecy of the mission with suggestions that there could be some hardware aboard the craft which is under evaluation or testing for intelligence or something related to it.
The planes are 9 meters (29 feet) long with a wingspan of 15 feet which makes them around a quarter of the dimensions of the retired shuttles from NASA.
Also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), the X-37B first blasted off in 2010 and was in action for 8 months. Then a second round was launched in 2011’s March which returned after 15 months of flying. The same year in December 2012 the third mission jetted off and returned after 22 months.
The landing that took place on Sunday was the first for Florida as all the last three landings had taken place in California’s Vadenberg Airforce Base. It was in 2014 when the Air Force relocated the program to the previously known shuttle hangars for NASA.
Later this year, the Air Force reported, will be the launch of their fifth mission for the X-37B from the Cape Canaveral Air Force station which is located south of the Kennedy Space Centre.