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. Cesar

    @Bob. Oh yea? Well, E=mc2

    December 3, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Penelope

      NOPE...pie r round, CORNBREAD r square! 🙂

      December 3, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • moxyclod

      SICILIAN pie are square

      December 4, 2010 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. THIS GUY

    Man I just love seeing super secret equipment all over the news for the world to see, Oh wait a minute... it's not a secret because people know about it thanks to our beloved media and the lack of OPSEC by the military! And we wonder why we have so many damn issues with keeping secrets. We love to brag more than keeping secrets. Like a wise man once said "Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead" Another FAIL moment for our government IMO

    December 3, 2010 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • JB

      Our government "leaks" stuff like this when it benefits a strategic goal.

      December 3, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • McJesus

      If the government tells us about it. It is already obsolete technology.

      December 3, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      When a poker player shows you an ace, it is to make you less sure of your hand. Any recent events in the world make you think we'd need to show an ace? I don't think OPSEC failure released the FLIR footage.

      December 4, 2010 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      this guy, its not a fail, it was leaked on pourpose, to scare the living crap out of iran NK, china ect.

      December 4, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. IknowIT

    Why the full-on level-A protective suits? And, what is in the hand of suit man on the left? A Geiger counter?

    December 3, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • good point

      good question IknowIT I just looked up what a geiger counter looks like and it could definitely be what that guy is holding.

      December 3, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • sciguy73

      Because hypergolic fuels are highly toxic. And when a few pounds come leaking out of a thruster and mess you up, you'll wish you had the suit. They won't allow astronauts to leave the shuttle after landing until workers come in with equipment like this to make sure nothing is leaking.

      December 3, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • IknowIT

      Sciguy- I was thinking that. Wikipedia says it uses hydrazine- nasty stuff. I guess that makes sense, but wouldn't that mean you need to be suited up anytime you work with the craft after it's fueled?

      Do they really suit up ground crew for the shuttle? I thought those engines ran LOX / Liquid hydrogen, so not sure why..

      December 3, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      iknowit, it sure like like a gigger counter, i played with one in collage. as for the suits, doesnt the craft have to fly thru the van(something I forgot) belt, that is like a giant band of radiation.

      December 4, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. larry

    Meanwhile my cell phone keeps dropping calls and the laptop freezes up daily!

    December 3, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • McJesus

      The USAF discovered if they paid 1000x the price from everything from bolts to computers. They tend to be 5% more reliable.

      December 3, 2010 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sacko

    This is why we need wikileaks to inform us.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      http://www.responsivespace.com/Papers/RS1/SESSION1/KOLODZIE/1002C.pdf

      December 4, 2010 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  6. Chris

    You Air Force bozos paid for this thing with MY tax dollars, and you won't even tell me what it does? Screw that. Hey, Julian, we've got a job for you....

    December 3, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. buran

    Russians had Buran do that 20 years ago, hello! woohoo, secret mission. who cares.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Entropy

      Buran had one flight. Singular. Not exactly "secret" or subtle.

      Although it was unmanned, that's just about all they've got in common.

      December 4, 2010 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. Ben

    Reagen's Star Wars lazers and reflecting mirrors need servicing. They have been up there for some time.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Greycat

    The cargo bay in the X-37 is about the size of a full sized pick up truck bed. Roughly 8 by 5.5 by 3 or so ( that is in feet) Too small to capture a satellite. As for a laser test platform, that is a good bet if they can make the Laser and it's power supply small enough. The X-37 has solar cells for power, but I would bet that they are not large enough to supply the power needed for a laser.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Biff

    Man the one liners here are the worst jokes i ever heard!!!

    maybe after 50 of your posts and no replies u would get it
    that your not funny.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. McJesus

    Jesus lives above the cloud tops. It was on a diplomatic mission. It also ust happened to take a side trip to the giant's cloud-top castle. They had to apologize for cutting down the beanstalk and stranding the poor big guy up there all those years ago.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. sciguy73

    I think this thing sneaks up on foreign satellites, takes a close look at them, and then attaches radio control gizmos that will neatly disable the satellites at the push of a button. No missle shots, no debris in orbit. Nice.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • IknowIT

      That's my guesss – something like that, anyway. Kill-switch implant, jammer, ELINT device, or something like that. The profile, size, endurance of the vehicle is perfect for it. No need to do ground recon with this thing- we have that capability covered elsewhere. Good stuff. It's another game changer. We need more of them (probably do, too).

      December 3, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • ROTORHEAD1871

      i think it just puts a smiley face on them....with a small satchl charge....for later use....

      December 3, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Greg

    This vehicle acquired a foreign satellite in it's bay, and returned it to earth. That's why the thing was launched and returned. It's much cheaper to launch and ditch if we need to deploy something. I'll guarantee there's a satellite from a foreign nation in the payload bay of that plane.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • hoffa

      really, and you dont think said foreign nation would make a HUGE stink over this? You cant just steal property of other governments without some sort of repercussion

      December 3, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. x87

    now we know what those cotrails in California were

    December 3, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Scott

    Are you kidding this is funny stuff. Wikileaks will announce the details next week. It doesn't matter who know unless the Chinese do want the details of their x37B announced. Or at least they own 40% of it.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
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