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. Jeepers

    Are those hammer pants they're wearing?

    December 3, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ROTORHEAD1871

    we own the sky.....deal with it.....

    December 3, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kenny

    Hummmmmmm 9'6" long? We could put both of the Korean Kims in it and give them a free one way trip into space.

    December 3, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Moishe

    Wikileaks reveals: THIS is santa clause.

    December 3, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Protoman

    We should put smiley faces in front of all the other nation's spy cameras in space. I'd like to hear the saber rattling after that one.

    December 3, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. hoffa

    Clearly its skynet

    December 3, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. NewRome

    In reading this article, I can't decide what to say as a comment.

    a) Because America is not an empire without invading space.
    b) Justin Bieber is not pleased with this spaceship.
    c) Under close inspection, parts of the plane reads "Made in China".
    d) Oh wait, so this can fly too?

    December 3, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seedenbetter

      How 'bout

      e) I'm a clueless, jealous idiot who suffers from an inferiority complex and have very low self esteem.

      December 4, 2010 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  8. MB

    Pfffft It's obvious why it was up there.

    The US sent it up there to mess with Kim Jon Il's Direct TV. That's why they shelled that island, dear leader couldn't get the Heat game.

    December 3, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jeff

    Well...some people already had videos of this on YouTube..and they listed it as a spy satellite but couldn't figure out what it was exactly...

    Most of the videos were people that aimed their amateur telescopes at stuff that looked like it was moving in the sky and they would catch an outline that looked very similar to the picture CNN has.

    So...guess the government can't hide something even if its floating in space...cause someone with a powerful enough telescope is going to film it and stick it on YouTube.

    December 3, 2010 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. dk

    it is most likely an emergency measure in case our spy and comunications satilites are taken out in a pre-emptive strike, in that case these will be launched in order to reastablish ground comunications and to continue keeping the ground forces in the know about enemy troop movements

    December 3, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. regertz

    Probably diverted that asteroid due to hit us in 2062.

    Seriously, I just hope it means we're not throwing away everything we learned via the space shuttle.

    December 3, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. PARROT

    HOPEFULLY WIKILEAKS WILL FIND AN ANSWER FOR US NEXT WEEK !!

    December 3, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. aaron

    lets build the full scale model and get our men back in space instead of counting on the red russians for a ride. time to rule space again.. at least in earth orbit.

    December 3, 2010 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Roger Buchan

    Is this a hoax or what, or maybe they just got caught by a News Cam. I thought it took like 14,000 mph to attain orbit, that thing doesn't look like it would reach 1,400 mph a flying Blimp. And un-manned why the two astronauts in space suits then! Dont believe everything you see and hear!

    December 3, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      And the space shuttle looks faster? And when toxic fuel is leaking from your drone, you don't wear protection? Go vote for Palin, sad moon hoax believing person.

      December 4, 2010 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      the "astronaughts" are almost for sure ground crew doing recovery work, not the ones flying the thing

      December 4, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joe

    Looks like radio acive stuff going on there.The guys probly do have radio active suits.Yes thats a geiger counter .I have one not that big.They just might be looking for radio leaks of some type.

    December 3, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
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