The U.S. Air Force’s uncrewed X-37B ‘space plane’ has now launched on seven clandestine missions to date, the payloads being taken on long-duration flights in Earth orbit remaining secret.
The X-37B has a lifting body-style and landing profile that is similar to the Space Shuttle, but the vehicle is one-fourth the size and the in-orbit duration of the X-37B varies based on flight requirements but has the ability to perform flights lasting up to 270 days.
“The X-37B government and Boeing teams have worked together to produce a more responsive, flexible, and adaptive experimentation platform,” said William D. Bailey, Director, Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.
“The work they’ve done to streamline processes and adapt evolving technologies will help our nation learn a tremendous amount about operating in and returning from a space environment.”
Boeing said in a news release:
“As it has with every mission, the Orbital Test Vehicle will validate new technologies, fostering innovation and pushing the boundaries of space exploration and utility. On this seventh flight, the X-37B will test future space domain awareness technology experiments that are integral in ensuring safe, stable and secure operations in space for all users of the domain.
Since its inaugural launch in April 2010, the X-37B has consistently set new endurance records, surpassing the initial design mission duration of 270 days. Its sixth mission set a new record with an impressive 908-day journey before returning to Earth in November 2022.
The X-37B, which will now build on its more than 1.3 billion miles traveled during its 3,774 days in space, exemplifies the successful partnership between the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the United States Space Force. Boeing teams deliver program management, engineering, production, test and mission support.”