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. Free the Leaf

    fund the space program, not the bureaucracy!

    and support cannabis=jobs reform... http://www.facebook.com/free.the.leaf

    December 4, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. usaf-f22

    I encourage technology that forces United States citizens to become educated. Most of the people on this article learned something new today, whether it was about tang, microprocessors, or things that don't even exist. I am so proud of all of you!

    But seriously, some of you have anxiety issues and need to stop trolling your conspiracy theories every chance you get because that's does not actually add up to real brain activity, and when you age into your late 60's I will protest that my tax dollars are going to a useless cause, that cause being you.

    December 4, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. darkviewproductions

    Wonders what it was really doing up there for "more than seven months" why can't they just say 9 months???

    December 4, 2010 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Le Gooph

    Coming soon to an earth orbit near you– satellite Donkey Kong. Should any of the world's superpowers (USA, China, Russia), or the 2nd tier powers with space capability (India) decide to jump off on any unfriendly neighbors or others, the fireworks will start first in space, as satellites are targeted with the aim of knocking out C3I capabilities. Oh boy!

    December 4, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nord-dog

    What an awesome story. >7 months, autonomous landing. So cool. Go USAF!!!

    December 4, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. oldjohn45

    Interesting that all of the inventions/dicoveries credited to NASA in this post preceded NASA.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stosh

      Some people just repeat these myths without any thought about whether or not they are true. That's why they go on and on and on and on...

      December 4, 2010 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. gino

    I hope it's to end iran, north korea and other non human murderers of their own enslaved people and threats to security the world over.

    December 4, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bobert1965

    Why's everybody picking on Ray about the Tang comment? Geeze oh Pete. It was a frickin joke. Some of y'all need to pull your panties out of your crack and settle down a bit.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Aliens?

    I wonder if homeless aliens hitched a ride in it? Don't open it up and go inside they might eat you!

    December 4, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. qthesupreme

    Sounds like a plot to convince us that this plane was in space, when actually it is a Hollywood set and those are paid actors. *snort*

    December 4, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jordan

    It's not NASA, it's all Air Force, coming from VAFB, I live outside and go there often, it's weapons, Vadenberg has nuclear missiles in case of war and they're always sending them into orbit, they just never say that because hippies will protest what they do, and they do, I've seen them outside the base with their stupid signs getting in the way while I'm trying to go through the gates. NASA uses money on so many things you don't know about, they pay people to say so this is where "the money goes" when it's all other top secret things. The government spends all the tax money on defense and weapons, intelligence etc. then they tell you they spend millions on toilet paper so you can see it's going somewhere and you complain that they're doing nothing, this is because they know how stupid and lazy America is that they're get away with it and no one will ever protest and throw people out of office.

    December 4, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mrpayne

    If they can get a vehicle to go to space, spend several months in orbit with all the crap that's orbiting around the Earth, perform whatever tests they needed to perform in space, and then enter Earth's atmosphere at reentry speeds and land safely, all without any pilots, why do still need manned planes?

    December 4, 2010 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Raven

    >Sk5e the transistor was invented in 1925 many many years before NASA or a space program.

    But yes technology brought about by the Air Force and NASA have greatly benefited the world.
    except those country's where they still fight wars with spears and rocks...

    December 4, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Brickell Princess

    You all complain about Federal income taxes but what little you pay the Federal government PROTECTS our nation. The Federal government maintains the military that keeps freedom strong.

    Now tell me, what is your state, county, and city government doing for you other than taxing you into poverty to create programs to benefit the poor? State, county, and city governments charge you state income tax, sales tax, gasoline taxes, a herd of utility taxes, car fees such as tag renewals–taking the crown–real estate taxes on your home.

    So for all that money you pay your local governments, just what exactly are those clowns doing for you? Last time I checked, mine were more concerned with spreading the cancer of low income housing all over the county than with paving the roads we all take to work!

    Spread the word folks and open people's eyes to the reality that local governments are the ones taxing us into the poor house.

    December 4, 2010 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JD

    They say its classified. Just wait a few weeks and it will end up in WikiLeaks, then the whole world will know about it! LOL. Maybe we will keep this a secret. Fingers crossed!

    December 4, 2010 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
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