Air Force robot space plane returns
December 3rd, 2010
05:02 PM ET

Air Force robot space plane returns

The U.S. Air Force's first unmanned space plane returned to Earth Friday, but its mission remains shrouded in secrecy.

The X-37B, known as Orbital Test Vehicle 1, landed at 1:15 a.m. at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base after spending more than seven months in space on its maiden voyage.

"Today's landing culminates a successful mission based on close teamwork between the 30th Space Wing, Boeing and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office," said Lt. Col. Troy Giese, the X-37B program manager from the AFRCO. "We are very pleased that the program completed all the on-orbit objectives for the first mission."

During its 220 days in orbit, the unmanned space plane conducted "on-orbit experiments" and "fired its orbital maneuver engine in low-earth orbit to perform an autonomous re-entry before landing," the Air Force said in a press release.

Otherwise, the exact nature of X-37B's mission is unclear because it remains classified.

Some analysts have speculated that the spacecraft is an unmanned orbital spy platform and not a weapon, according to Space.com.

The program's test objectives include risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies, according to the Air Force.

We also know a bit about its features from the Air Force: The unmanned spacecraft is designed for vertical launch to low Earth orbit altitudes where it can perform long-term testing and experimentation. Upon command from the ground, the OTV autonomously re-enters the atmosphere, descends and lands horizontally on a runway. Its height is 9 feet 6 inches and its wingspan is 14 feet 11 inches.

The Air Force is preparing to launch the next X-37B in spring 2011.

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Filed under: Space
soundoff (285 Responses)
  1. Wanderlust or Bust

    Me and my alien friends almost ran into it when we were out joyriding in their spaceship:

    http://robustwanderlust.blogspot.com/2010/10/just-visiting.html

    December 4, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. jkkh

    The plane was used to receive alien diplomats and return them to earth. Landing their ships would cause a ruckus!

    December 4, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. LiberalArtsBum

    Eh spes SHOVEL, that's what we need, comrades...

    December 4, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Kudu

    WAY COOL!!!

    December 4, 2010 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Igandalf2

    How cool is that!!

    December 4, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Al

    It may have just been used to start construction of the new Death Star....

    December 5, 2010 at 12:01 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. NOT A TEABAGGER

    its aliens

    December 5, 2010 at 12:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. newell

    When they look back in the future they'll say things really didnt get going for space travel until they started experimenting and getting good at robotic space craft like this gee do you think they would really use it for weapons?
    oh boy here we go star wars

    December 5, 2010 at 12:24 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jordan

      We're not talking about a galaxy far far away. There's a whole defense in space. Russia, China, North Korea (which I doubt), if they were ever to go ballistic and launch something, that'd be our retaliation. Yes, for someone that probably got board of watching "Star Wars" played over and over again on Spike, there are "BOMBS" that are not just only underground, but in space in orbit ready to go when Def Con 5 goes on. There are no lasers or Millenium Falcons flying around piloted by Lando Calrissian. The Enterprise isn't out there either...

      December 5, 2010 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
  9. michael

    After reading these comments I've come to realize that either counter intelligence is spending way to much time in here or the US education system is truly as pathetic as most other countries claim. I trust little our USA tells us but really people join reality.

    December 5, 2010 at 3:15 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Donny

    I have a few question ... This photo is a U.S Airforce Photo, not some photographers snapshot of this thing right? Right. ... Okay so my question are:
    1.) Why are the guys wearing the bio suits and carring little boxes .. not to mention running.
    2.) Why the white supply line in the rear of the vehical, where is it leading? Is it delivering oxygen or something???
    3.) If this is a military base, which I assume it is .. then who are they trying to contain with the barb-wire placed on the ground?

    December 7, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. johnny

    i was sort of wondering also about the two individuals in the suits carrying some sort of monitoring equipment. kind of looks like a geiger counter or something like that to me.

    December 8, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jonathan

    orbital testicle

    December 14, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. AHS

    Its a platfrom and that is all ya get to know. Too bad so sad. UAV aircraft were bound to evolve into UAV spacecraft. Tests performed which are just too risky or too long for human flight crew are often conducted with unmanned vehicles. I'm just happy its ours and not theirs. I'm active duty and I volunteered to go up next...pick me, pick me, woohoo!

    December 19, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. mac

    we can plop a camera over your head anywhere on the planet like right now....how cool is this:)" yehaa usa

    December 27, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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