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Secret space plane X-37B to touch-down after 667 days in space

The US Air Force is preparing to land X-37B, a kind of robotic space plane that has spent a record 665 consecutive days in space. Its real purpose is a complete mystery, but it’s finally set to land after a ‘successful’ mission.

Tuesday, US time, is the date set by the US military for the return of X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, known as the third landing of the secret unmanned space vehicle. Currently, X-37B is orbiting at 28,044km/h, at a distance of around 350km in the sky.

The plane will land at Vandenberg Air Force Base, after orbiting the Earth since Dec. 11, 2012, launched on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, as part of ‘Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 3’.

Vandenberg officials have been released minimal details, only saying the X-37B’s exact landing date and time will depend on “technical and weather considerations”.

The base has issued notices to aviators and mariners, warning them to stay away from the area between 3 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday, Californian time.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle in the encapsulation cell at the Astrotech facility April 13, 2010.

Despite the programme being shrouded in secrecy, the landing itself is no secret – here is the preparation notice as issues by Vandenberg Air Force Base:

10/10/2014 – VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Preparations for the third landing of the X-37B, the Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane, are underway at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The exact landing date and time will depend on technical and weather considerations.

“Team Vandenberg stands ready to implement safe landing operations for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, the third time for this unique mission” said Col. Keith Baits, 30th Space Wing commander.

Space professionals from the 30th Space Wing will monitor the de-orbit and landing of the Air Force’s X-37B, called the Orbital Test Vehicle mission 3 (OTV-3).

Since the third launch of the X-37B, Dec. 11, 2012, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Vandenberg crews have conducted extensive, periodic training in preparation for landing.

More information will be released as it becomes available.

X-37B’s actual functions are still heavily classified – we explored everything we could find out previously in what is Techly’s number one most read post of all time. Notable theories include ‘Rods from God’, to highly-manoeuvrable spying and imaging of Earth from space.

Update: We have touchdown! After 674 days in space, X-37B landed. We have all the images and information for you here.

About the author

Tristan has a passion for tech, digital life, sport, and being told he looks better in person.

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Comment (2)

    magnus

    Tuesday 14 October 2014

    the URL says 663

    the article title says 667

    the article says 665

    but is you use this to count the days its 672 ( http://www.timeanddate.com/date/durationresult.html?m1=12&d1=11&y1=2012&m2=10&d2=14&y2=2014 )

    so which is correct?

    Reply

      Tristan Rayner

      Tuesday 14 October 2014

      Fair question. Depends on your frame of reference!

      When it lands, it will be 672 days. When Vandenburg AF Base announced the landing, it was 665 days and the article was published on the 667th day.

      (Just not 666 – alright?!)

      Reply