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. WDRad

    This thing shot the genetic makeup of Caucasian ninjas all over Uranus

    December 4, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. diamond stone

    Warrior knows high tech can be used for both good and bad but dont worry my pilgrams good always wins so get to work and do good

    December 4, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • WDRad

      Evil will always triumph because good is dumb.

      December 4, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Buddha

    No worries, in a few months they will probably have the details in a Wikileak


    December 4, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tomn8r

    u.s. 4 the win

    December 4, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. wbaldwin

    what did eisenhower say about the military industrial complex? oh ya=

    so we can now kill civilians with things falling from space? this is just great, nasa was the nerd that did the air force's homework and now they'll just hand the controls over to some jock that plays halo all day.

    the reason wikileaks released such damaging evidence is that there MUST be accountability. There is no accountability if you can just drop a bowling ball from space to destroy someone's house.

    oh, and you say it's not a weapon, but a tool for espionage? The only way i see that is truely for gaining intelligence is as a satellite deployment platform since the space shuttle is done now. Which makes even more sense as to why there are so many cuts to nasa. military doesn't need them anymore!

    why would we choose something that flys above the atmosphere when we can send a jet? is the aurora project gone, was it ever real? N. Korea can't shoot down anything but a U2.

    technology and science shouldn't be used to kill people. we do just fine with clubs and rocks.

    December 4, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Orange Sunshyne

    The first collision of spacecraft in space will be very interesting.
    With all the satellites in orbit and space debris, it's only a matter of time before two collide.
    There are no space traffic cops to direct traffic, and umanned spacecraft have no one aboard to avoid encounters.
    It is amazing to me that this aircraft could stay in orbit for 7 months with no problems.

    December 4, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Brett

    Look out! The Pillsbury dough boy has an evil twin brother!

    December 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. The 4th Kind

    This is only another Phase of Operation Blue Beam. The media hypw will soon die down, and this secret mission will not be revealed..... If it is secret now, it will remain secret.

    December 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dan

    this is evidence that the US is hiding aliens.

    December 4, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mike

    Why are the ground crew personal dressed as though something will hurt them?

    December 4, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • The 4th Kind

      There are some pretty hazardous chemicals onboard these types of shuttles. NASA treats all of the other space craft the same. The base I was stationed at happened to be one of the few that are designated for shuttle landings. A crew came out and trained us on how to approach the shuttle and the proper ppe to wear. They would not disclose the Hazmats inside.....

      December 4, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Andrew

    Just more shist that comes from tax dollars

    December 4, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zero10

      I assume you think you deserve all those tax dollars.

      December 4, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • ray

      Wake up Andrew!! You're not considering all the things that were developed from the trillions of taxpayer dollars that fund NASA. I suppose you've heard of Tang.......Actually, thats the only thing I can think of. But it is a pretty tasty beverage.

      December 4, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      Better spent than paying corrupt politicians

      December 4, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • jt


      December 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wade

      Uh, ray, the article is about an Air Force space plane; NASA likely had nothing to do with it.

      December 4, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trevor

      Ray....Tempurpedic Mattresses!

      December 4, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cody

      Invisible Braces, Scratch-resistant Lenses, Memory Foam, Ear Thermometer, Shoe Insoles, Long-distance Telecommunications, Adjustable Smoke Detector, Safety Grooving, Cordless Tools, Water Filters, microwave, MRI, numerous other medical technologies. Oh, and about Tang, thats a myth. NASA didnt invent it, General Mills. That's just a small list of everyday things we use. There are hundreds of items. There'e your tax dollars at work my friend. You work, pay taxes, NASA makes things that benefit you. Same as paying a contractor to build your home. So you might want to reconsider my friend. This is why NASA is so vital to our lives. They dont just invent one or two things, they invent it all. So be grateful.

      December 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      What NASA has done with your tax dollars.
      While it seems to be the American way, try educating yourself before posting snarky, ignorant comments.

      December 4, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • doughnuts

      @Ray: Don't forget the device on which you typed that post.

      December 4, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Red Shuttle ...

      the unmanned X-37B seems big but it's just a toy if compared with the Space Shuttle or the RED SHUTTLE ...

      December 4, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      As there is no such thing as a red shuttle, we'll ignore it. We'll only consider spacecraft that actually exist.

      December 4, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Ray your an idiot tang was not invented by NASA but popularized by them. Do some research and realize education (something you probably don't have) fuels progression.

      December 4, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • sk5e

      listen genius –

      you typed a response right? probably used a personal computing device? guess what? no space program, no transistor. no transistor, no tech revolution. no tech revolution, and you're still typing things out on a typewriter. and – no tax dollars, no space program.

      looks like i was wasting tax dollars on your education. didn't seem to get you far.

      December 4, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • drow

      man, that thing's pretty kick ars.

      December 4, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • rrock

      So maybe it is money down a rat hole. It is nothing compared to the trillion a year the military goes through bringing democracy where it is not wanted and subsidizing those hundred foreign economies where we have bases.

      December 4, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stosh

      The ideas that Tang, velcro,or teflon came out of the space program are urban myths. Nlone of them did.

      You can look it up. I wish you would, rather than continue to spread these myths.

      December 4, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stosh

      Sigh. I just saw Cody's post. Many of the things he listed were NOT developed by NASA either.

      Where does this stuff come from?

      December 4, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justin

      Nothing that NASA has produced has been for the public, it has all been used at first for the purpose of space exploration. Why should our tax dollars go to an agency thats sole purpose is to explore space, not invent things for our benefit. If the main reason you are justifying all the money that NASA gets is for technologies it creates why not just form an agency whose purpose is creating technology for applications on earth as opposed to space? That would eliminate NASA from the argument and we would still get the benefit of having things produced to better mankind.

      December 4, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • RufusLeaking

      Looks like it has windows ...

      December 4, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris

      computers calculators advance in medicine many things have come from nasa

      December 4, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spendlove

      Just to set the record straight the Soviets did indeed have a "Red Shuttle" and it flew.

      December 4, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • iceaxdave

      The first time I had Tang, it wasn't all that tasty...kind of like a cross between tuna and dirty pennies.

      December 4, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erick

      Why do you all assume it's NASA that's doing this... NASA might be a player and have some knowledge. However, at the end of the day this is a classified project by the US Air Force space division and possibly involving NASA in some small way. This is top secret and the fact that nothing about this leaks means it's for sure not NASA as nothing at NASA is airtight... it would have leaked immediately if it was theirs. No no... this has it's reasons... good or bad... who knows, but it is exciting again to see the US Government involved in this secret stuff in space, makes for interesting stories and comments.

      December 4, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • frontgate

      I like it.
      Money well spent.

      December 4, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • GEORGE

      Get to the basics, it isn't a secert anymore. Maybe it's a WikiLeak flligt

      December 5, 2010 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      Frankly, given the very volatile nature of today's real world, and the dangers we face from many directions, I believe we need all the intelligence gathering equipment we can get. Sure, we are in bad shape economically, but I would like our military to have as much notice–even saving a few seconds–when a ballistic missile is heading towards us or one of our allies. This platform seems designed to do that better than the detectors we use now. A few seconds can mean the saving or murdering of millions of people. I am strongly in favor of this and other secret arms we are developing. But hey, that's just my opinion. Oh, did you just hear that roar overhead? That was one of the ballistic missiles I was referring to flying by your home....God forbid.

      December 15, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. David

    Now this is something that WikiLeaks should be uncovering. How convient that the US & Europe agree to the Missle Defense System and then this plane comes back to earth. Related? More than likely...

    December 4, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      The security of the U.S. is more important, WikiLeaks should be shut down permanently.

      December 4, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billish

      Shut up and crawl back into your grain silo in Kansas, you nutjob conspiracy theorist.

      December 4, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chaos

      Do you wear your tinfoil hat with the shiny side inside or out?

      December 4, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • duh

      Thats stupid. Everyone knows that only double shiny sided tinfoil protects your brain.

      December 4, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rich

    "they" are not going to tell you...get over it

    December 4, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • realworld

      "Some analysts have speculated..." But now we'll have a few dozen of the real experts tell us what went on up there.

      December 4, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Let's see, what would they do? First, let's see if it kind of works getting into orbit.
      Let's see if it KEEPS orbiting.
      Let's see if it can reposition its orbit.
      Let's see if the accessory systems work correctly.
      Let's see how long the damned thing works before something breaks...
      Let's see if it can avoid all the junk up there.
      Let's see if it can land or just dig a deep, long furrow in the Earth...
      NASA *WISHES* they could've done a first test of the space shuttle for that long.
      Good job, Air Force! Even if only 80% of the systems remained operational for the entire mission, a resounding success!

      December 4, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ryan

    End it now! If humans leave earth, don't bring weapons with us. Just let it be! We already destroyed our planet with war, don't drag it anywhere else!

    December 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      I always chuckle when someone claims we have destroyed, or are in the process of destroying, the planet. Influence, sure. Alter, perhaps. Destroy? That's just arrogance. Earth was around for billions and billions of years before us and will be long after we're gone.

      December 4, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      We are only destroying this planet's ability to support us, not the planet itself. And, BTW: aggressive expansion and war would be the marks of any powerful species.

      December 4, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • jt

      Yes, Let's go traipsing through space totally unarmed! DUH!

      December 4, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      JT, WHY would we need weapons in space? Are the little green men from Mars going to attack us?
      If anything in space wanted to hurt us, they could simply come here and do so, without trying to find an itty, bitty little spaceship we'd send out in all of that space.

      December 4, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Beavis

    Is it just me, or does that look a lot like a smaller, windowless space shuttle? Why are we scrapping that fleet again?

    December 4, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave in Ohio

      The space shuttle is a thirty year old system, using forty year old technology, with a poor safety record, and horrendously expensive. They still look pretty neat, though.......

      December 4, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Okie

      This one can use recent Linux, the shuttle relies on stuff oder than Windows 3.1

      December 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Floyd Johnson

      Shuttle uses a 486 microprocessor (circa 1994). Last time they replaced the microprocessors they had to purchase them from ebay because they have not been fabricated in a decade. I think I have one in the attic....

      can this space plane reach the space shuttle?

      December 4, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leon Tate

      You're right – the shuttle was bigger with more obvious features. I'm ditching my iPhone for one of those 1968 IBM Office phones that were much larger and had all the buttons, lights – an a cord. It MUST be better!

      December 4, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
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