CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A secret military winged spacecraft glided out of Earth orbit on Sunday touching down at the Kennedy Space Center at the conclusion of a record breaking mission.
The uncrewed Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle spent 780 days in space performing detailed experiments for the military. The winged spacecraft glided on automatic from low Earth orbit to a pin-point landing at 3:51 a.m. EDT.
Today’s landing was the second by an X-37B on the three-mile-long runway previously used during NASA’s space shuttle program. The runway is adjacent to the X-37s designated processing facility next to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building.
This flight was scheduled to deploy several small satellites and perform classified “on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies,” according to the Air Force. The space plane is operated from a control room while on-orbit with an open payload bay facing Earth.
“The safe return of this spacecraft, after breaking its own endurance record, is the result of the innovative partnership between government and industry,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said on Sunday. “The sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the U.S. Space Force.”
The classified flight of the reusable mini-space shuttle lifted off a top a SpaceX Falcon 9 from the space center nearly 26 months ago. This was the third mission flown by the first of two reusable X-37Bs.
“The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane,” Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett stated. “Each successive mission advances our nation’s space capabilities.”
The Air Force has announced the sixth mission of the X-37B program is scheduled to launch a top a ULA Atlas V rocket in spring of 2020.
(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)