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Air Force Space Plane lands after Record-Breaking Secret Mission

Florida (May 08, 2017): The record-shattering mission of the U.S. Air Force’s robotic X-37B space plane is finally over.

After circling Earth for an unprecedented 718 days, the X-37B touched down Sunday (May 7) at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — the first landing at the SLF since the final space shuttle mission came back to Earth in July 2011. The landing occurred at 7:47 a.m. EDT (1147 GMT).

“Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing as we continue to break barriers,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the 45th SW commander, said in a statement. “Our team has been preparing for this event for several years, and I am extremely proud to see our hard work and dedication culminate in today’s safe and successful landing of the X-37B.”

The record-shattering mission of the U.S. Air Force’s robotic X-37B space plane is finally over.

After circling Earth for an unprecedented 718 days, the X-37B touched down Sunday (May 7) at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — the first landing at the SLF since the final space shuttle mission came back to Earth in July 2011. The landing occurred at 7:47 a.m. EDT (1147 GMT).

“Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing as we continue to break barriers,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the 45th SW commander, said in a statement. “Our team has been preparing for this event for several years, and I am extremely proud to see our hard work and dedication culminate in today’s safe and successful landing of the X-37B.” [The Mysterious X-37B

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 (OTV-4) is seen after landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 7, 2017. The unpiloted space plane spent a record 718 days in space during its classified mission.
The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4 (OTV-4) is seen after landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 7, 2017. The unpiloted space plane spent a record 718 days in space during its classified mission.

The just-ended mission, known as OTV-4 (Orbital Test Vehicle-4), was the fourth for the X-37B program. All four launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and the first three landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But Air Force officials have said they want to consolidate X-37B launch and touchdown operations on Florida’s Space Coast, so today’s landing might be the first of many at the SLF.

“The hard work of the X-37B OTV team and the 45th Space Wing successfully demonstrated the flexibility and resolve necessary to continue the nation’s advancement in space,” Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said in the same statement. “The ability to land, refurbish, and launch from the same location further enhances the OTV’s ability to rapidly integrate and qualify new space technologies.”

The Air Force is known to possess two X-37B space plane vehicles, both of which were built by Boeing. The 29-foot-long (8.8 meters) X-37B looks like NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiter, only much smaller; indeed, two X-37Bs could fit inside a space shuttle’s cavernous payload bay.

The X-37B launches vertically and comes back to Earth horizontally for a runway landing, as the space shuttle did.

Most of the X-37B’s payloads and activities are classified, leading to some speculation that the space plane could be a weapon of some sort, perhaps a disabler of enemy satellites. But Air Force officials have always strongly refuted that notion, stressing that the vehicle is simply testing technologies on orbit.