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

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. jbird

    Based on the suits those recovery crew members are wearing, I'd say the thing is more hazardous to be around, than the regular Nasa shuttle fleet. I wonder if it uses plutonium, like some of the recon satellites...

    December 3, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Entropy

      You mean like Hydrazine? That super-toxic fuel that's a common part of nearly all space operations?

      Nuclear power isn't used for propulsion, because it's horrendously dirty. It's only used for keeping electronics online. Satellites use hydrazine rockets to keep themselves in orbit.

      December 4, 2010 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  2. jbird

    I just noticed the guy with the geiger counter. I dont think I'm far off!

    December 4, 2010 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Medardus

      It's a sniff-checker for hydrazine. NASA does the same thing when the Shuttle comes back. They're checking for fuel leaks.

      December 4, 2010 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  3. Tim

    All well thought out answers.

    My personal opinion is that it was paid and created for the GOP. Next week they're going to threaten to shoot themselves into space and not come back down until Obama agrees on those tax cuts for those making over $250,000 a year!

    December 4, 2010 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  4. isis

    Thank to the vision of president OBAMA, we are finally moving the the RIGHT direction with ZERO lost of life in future war against CHINA or RUSSIA or INDIA

    December 4, 2010 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
    • dave in Ohio

      For real – you think that this was designed, built, and launched in a little over a year? The lead time for a machine like this is in the order of ten years. Obama can't take ANY credit for this one. It's more likely he would cancel it so they'd have more money to give to his liberal supporters. Thank God he's only gonna serve a single term!

      December 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      Project began in NASA in 1999 (Clinton Administration) and transferred to the Department of Defense in 2004 (Bush Administration). If anything, the project may have never gotten off the ground in the current administration due to their significant cuts to NASA's budget. Constellation Project anyone?

      December 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • bry

      dave is right, isis. but who cares which president, as long as it is the US? thanks to the vision of the space acquisition professionals, not any president.

      December 4, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Seedenbetter

    It's the ultimate drone weapon and can fire laser beams from space hitting a square inch target. Collateral damage will be a thing of the past. A terrorist can be in a crowd of innocent civilians and a beam from space locks onto the middle of his forehead and magically his head explodes with the only damage to surrounding civilians is perhaps a bit of brain matter splatter. This replacement of the shuttle can gather intelligence in countless ways and vaporize enemy satellites. This is no longer Science Fiction. Enemies of the US, be afraid, be very afraid.

    December 4, 2010 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Entropy

      Actually, that's still not possible. They haven't gotten lasers that fine or directable yet. Trying to hit a man-size target from the edge of space? Not happening right now.

      December 4, 2010 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Art

      My dream is for us to have a powerful space based laser that can fire infrared (therefore invisible to the naked eye) beams and destroy anything from tanks to nuclear facilities. As far as being able to take out individual people, well laser beams do not spread out for one. Secondly, perhaps this flight experimented with powerful inch wide beams. I love the thought that we have weapons that I don't know about.

      December 4, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joe

    In the event of a war with the Chinese, Russians or a couple of other countries, the first thing they will knock out is our satellites. It would make sense then to have a spacecraft that can be sent into space and take the place of satellites. Right now we have fixed targets in space and once they are destroyed our advanced weapons are blind. Makes sense then to have a back-up plan to quickly replace satellites knocked out of action. Or it could be a prototype for the next Air Force One.

    December 4, 2010 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
    • ReaderX

      Well it's not like the EMP is selective, they try and knock out our satellites, and they'll probably knock out a few of theirs in the process...

      December 4, 2010 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
    • dk

      already said that, wont be next air force one

      December 4, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. gunsmoke


    December 4, 2010 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
  8. A

    It looks like so many amateur experts here are trying to add their two cents. I am glad there are some secrets left despite all freaky leaks.

    December 4, 2010 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  9. Brad

    All of you are wrong...the fat cat bankers,insurance companies, liberals, and White House used it to launch all their hidden money up into space to the secret james bond style space station that our government built using the 780 billion in "stimulas" money so they could avoid the nightmare that their screwed up policies are going to cause in the near future...........

    December 4, 2010 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
  10. JohnWayne

    Way COOL dude! I love it. Get the upper hand and draw, stranger...

    December 4, 2010 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  11. A

    Those dudes in bio-suites look like ones from Monster Inc. movie. This space craft travelled to parralel universe populated by hairy monsters. Oooooooh!

    December 4, 2010 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. wondering....

    Folks, I see a lot of people are talking about the test device for a fuel leak......I am curious though, shouldn't someone have warned the driver of the F250 that he shouldn't have parked there before the testing was complete......How about the poor underpaid fellow who placed the wheel chaulks under the front tire? Then again, maybe its just me.

    December 4, 2010 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      the tire chalker was probibly an iligal alean, so they dont care about him

      December 4, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. goat

    "Today's landing culminates a successful mission based on close teamwork between the 30th Space Wing, Boeing and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office,"

    There's 30 space wing's already?!?!!?

    December 4, 2010 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  14. Chris

    info for this program can be found here.

    December 4, 2010 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  15. Neato

    More/better info on WikiLeak- err, WikiPedia...

    December 4, 2010 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
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