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.”

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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farouk
farouk
1 month ago

Just for info, the Chinese have their own robotic space plane Shenlong or the divine dragon similar in size to the X37B, It first flew in 2011 (a year after the X37B) and it carried out its third mission on the 14th of Dec 2023 where it dropped off 6 objects which are transmitting back to earth. It first flew in 2011 . On a more exciting note the US Dream Chaser space plane (think mini me Space shuttle) is set to launch into space twice this year, the first an unmanned test followed hopefully by a manned one. With… Read more »

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago
Reply to  farouk

Didn’t know that about the Chinese effort, must check it out though no surprise that they are trying to mimic Space X with Starship, might even get people on the Moon first at this rate. Excited about DreamChaser, it’s been a long time in the evolution of the concept (originates in a Soviet project) but I think it is more exciting than Starship for some years to come certainly, more useful and certainly flexible in that shorter term. The shooting star module will seriously add to its capabilities too. Sad thing is that Sierra Space, not being one of the… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Spyinthesky
farouk
farouk
1 month ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

if you have the time have a butchers at:
How China Reinvented The Space Station!
On You Tube.

George
George
1 month ago
Reply to  farouk

Thank you, I just learned something new. Never too old.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago

Always stunned by this platform, it’s been so successful for so long it’s made the whole spaceship thing look easy and routine not something one associates with. Boeing in particular. Thirteen years of incredibly impressive flight and yet all the present solutions are struggling to one degree or other Dreamliner near fatally. Does make one wonder quite why/how this success story was never developed into a better solution than what we see now. Dream Chaser might prove to be a manned success story of equivalent impact but still a lot to prove there and comes from a totally different origin.… Read more »

Bloke down the pub
Bloke down the pub
1 month ago

 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.’
Yet the longest flight is 908 days, go figure.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago

Yes badly phrased that. I think the original concept visualised up to 270 days but over the last decade it has proved capable of far longer duration. They are clearly pushing the envelope. The Russians and Chinese are deeply concerned with this capability and worry it seems that potentially it could be turned into a weapon that could sit in space for many months turning into years to be activated at a moments notice.

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF
1 month ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

(Cue appropriate theme music.) “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of…” 😁

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago

I think it must be something to do with relativity…..clearly the x-37b is a lot faster that advertised…if it’s banging along at around 290000kms ( around .97c ) time dilation will be at around 1min for 4mins on earth so a mission of say 226 days duration would be around 908days earth time……

grizzler
grizzler
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

at first I thought …”ehh wtf?!” then read it again …thats one fast spaceship….and some good reverse maths.
I can’t be bothered to even look up how to work out if its correct or not the attempt is worthy enough😄

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  grizzler

It’s actually stupid complicated ( it’s the Lorentz factor that bakes my noodle to be honest) then you step into then trying to add in gravitational time dilation….as relativist and gravitational time dilation together is a head screw close to the same level as quantum superposition..ok maybe not as that’s just too odd and I’ve always just wanted that cat fuck off out the box and be done….anyway since Cornell university has a plan to create superposition in a virus we may soon discover life is far more different than we though ( the Copenhagen interpretation potentially has the ability… Read more »

George
George
1 month ago

A remarkable asset. Can we have some please.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  George

“A remarkable asset”…. but we know absolutely nothing about what it does !

George
George
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

It’s a small shuttle. We know what shuttles do. Transport payloads, deploy them or simply use them while up there. With the added bonus of much more fuel for full manoeuvrability. What the payloads do is not difficult to imagine either.
From what I can gather scouring the web and reading between the lines. Relatively low cost, versatility and potential weapon carrying seem central to the programme. If anyone has more details, please share. It’s a fascinating subject.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  George

……. But what does it do ? …..

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Well it goes up drifts around somewhat and comes back down,..

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

And that’s the sum of all we know.

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
1 month ago
Reply to  George

More likely we get the MOD running a trial on the aero dynamics of a short range rocket glued to a stick. 🤔

George
George
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

You are probably close to the mark. I’m surprised we are not buying balloons from China!

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  George

We do but most are now stuck just outside of the Red Sea…..
…. To be perfectly Honest, I’d let the Huiti’s block all Chinese Ships coming through…. We are only helping them pay for their Military Expansion……..Quite why the World continues to fund their Ambitions is way beyond me.

George
George
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Very good point. Boycotting all CCP goods would be a wise thing to do.

grizzler
grizzler
1 month ago
Reply to  George

Does that include the laptop/mobile you are using to write that – or the chips therin? BTW I dont diagree about the attuitude of the West and sepcifically this government towards the acceptance Chinese expansion to faciltate cheap goods. From human rights issues in Tibet/Hong Kong & treatment of Naymars abroad to owning critical infrastructure, influencing education ,ignoring diplomatic protocal (Manchester embassy anyone?) & ‘influencing’ British Nationals with their secret police closer to home. IDS has the right idea & and approach to dealing with them & many Tories started to support him- thats all gone quiet now. The cowtowing… Read more »

George
George
1 month ago
Reply to  grizzler

It’s difficult these days to avoid supporting the CCP due to the extent of ChiCom made parts flooding the world. But we can try. I used to be a big fan of Lenovo PC’s and T series laptops. Mainly due to the excellent built quality but that has seriously deteriorated since the brand moved from IBM to the CCP. Incidentally, they are built at COVID ground zero, Wuhan. Most of the top chips are manufactured in Taiwan, thankfully. Another reason the ChiComs want the place and the best reason for the free world to defend them with everything we have.… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by George
Cygnet261
Cygnet261
1 month ago
Reply to  George

Try finding anything Thai not made in China. Good luck on that.

George
George
1 month ago
Reply to  Cygnet261

Thai or Tai?

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
1 month ago
Reply to  George

👍