The unmanned secret robotic space plane known as X-37B by the US Air Force has landed safely at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9:24 a.m. Oct. 17, 2014, completing a record 674 days in space.
The third of the ‘Orbital Test Vehicles’ extended the total number of days spent in space for the program to 1367 days, after previous test missions lasted less than a year initially, before a second test latest 469 days in space. This third mission has now smashed this previous record.
While the US Air Force has released information, including previously unseen elements of the spacecraft via photos taken after landing, the mission purpose itself remains heavily classified.
Powered by a solar panel that unfurls once in orbit, X-37B can open with small, shuttle-like payload bay in its middle. There’s room for more than just a solar panel too. Exactly what items it carries, and why it needs to be in space so long, has proved elusive for analysts, the space community, and the media.
“I’m extremely proud of our team for coming together to execute this third safe and successful landing,” said Col. Keith Balts, commander of the 30th Space Wing, which is headquartered at Vandenberg, in a statement.
“Everyone from our on-console space operators to our airfield managers and civil engineers take pride in this unique mission and exemplify excellence during its execution.”
Techly has covered the space plane since earlier this year, with all the details and interesting conspiracy theories here.
(Images via Boeing)