Space Force’s X-37B spaceplane returns to Earth after more than two years in space

The Space Force’s mysterious X-37B space plane has landed on Earth after spending a record two and a half years (908 days) in orbit. It landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, November 12 at 5:22 a.m. ET, marking its sixth successful mission to date.

Although the agency is fairly tight-lipped about what exactly the Boeing-built spaceplane does, it did reveal that it deployed the FalconSat-8 developed by the US Air Force Academy in October 2021. This small satellite carried five experimental payloads and is still in orbit now. It also housed the Naval Research Laboratory’s Photovoltaic Radio Frequency Antenna Module, designed to convert sunlight into microwave energy and “transmit the energy to the ground”.

The spaceplane, which looks like a smaller version of NASA’s space shuttle, first took to the skies in 2010, and we haven’t learned much about its purpose since. Prior to this mission, the X-37B carried a small number of satellites into space, making its return in 2019 after 780 days.

Some other experiments aboard the spaceplane this time around included one from NASA that tested space exposure on seeds to help “inform the production of space crops for future interplanetary missions and the establishment of permanently manned bases in space”. Another experiment tested the effect of space radiation on various materials, which NASA will then compare to materials here on Earth.

“Since the first launch of the X-37B in 2010, it has broken records and provided our nation with unparalleled capability to rapidly test and integrate new space technologies,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing Space and Launch. in a press release. “With the added service module, this was the most we have ever carried into orbit on the X-37B and we are proud to have been able to prove this flexible new capability to the government and its industrial partners.”


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