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. Joe Rioux

    How in the world is this cause for concern? It's part of improving our decades-old, out-of-date space transportation capabilities. The shuttle's getting phased out. The Air Force is testing new technology. This is good news, not fodder for asinine, paranoid conspiracy theories.

    December 4, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • mobetta

      Right on! Well said............

      December 4, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • mfb

      you're one of THEM, aren't you? you think you're so sly, you're not fooling anyone.

      December 4, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Rioux

      uh oh, mfb is on to me. I think I have to destroy the planet now.

      December 4, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. db

    I try to think of war is a way of trimming the herd a bit. In any great war we kill off a great portion of the male masses. What is left is a very rich target area for the rest of the males that survived. Men, we are needed for repopulation needs only, how convenient.

    December 4, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rich, KC

    The hippies are having fits.

    December 4, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • qthesupreme

      I thought for a minute that last word started with a t. Darned hippies!

      December 4, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Qui

    cool

    December 4, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. go USAF

    no one commenting on possible nukes or lasers or any other weapon have ANY idea about depolyment of space vehicles OR future space technologies. please stop the commentary which is, in fact, niave–you are only making things worse. do you think your country should not hold on to ANY secrets? do you not understand the importance of this? how about you do what we did 60 years ago and TRUST our government on some fronts? on THIS front, at least; we know what we are doing in space, despite what the uninformed opine.

    December 4, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Let's see, weapons: Most likely, zero. We have ground based stuff for that and it wouldn't take much to make a satellite into an anti-satellite weapon.
      Nukes, nope. A ratified treaty is the law of the land. As it's against a treaty regarding nukes in space, it's against the law and won't be done.
      Now, if they'd be kind enough in congress to fund the replacement for the aging GPS satellites, the Air Force could use this to put replacements up there. BEFORE they all fail.

      December 4, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • bananabread

      Hey Wzrd1, the aging GPS fleet IS, in point of fact, being replaced. Space Vehicle 1, the first of the GPS Block IIF satellites was placed directly into orbit on May 28th of this year. There will be 11 more of the Block IIF models launched before the series is replaced by the Block III.

      December 4, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. what ever

    It's an airstream with little wings

    December 4, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • tonkadok

      That's hilarious. I've got a Holiday Rambler if they want to strap on some rockets and blast my RV into space.

      December 4, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ed

    Hey, Rich, I'm a "hippie" and I think it's a pretty good idea that we're finally getting a new platform for space exploration online. Sounds like the "fascists" can't handle success !

    December 4, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Anonymous - you know why

    I'm sure if you just go to Wikileaks, they',ll have the entire mission plan online.

    December 4, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Nevada

    Skynet will come online soon, Terminators to follow...

    December 4, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Astronaut

    Pssst!...the space race is still going!, do not tell anyone!....so hush!, it is secret!, and be quiet!....

    December 4, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ryan

    The 30'th Space Wing, huh? Sign me up.

    December 4, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      The Air Force recruiter is just down the street. Go ahead and sign up! You CAN request to join that unit in your enlistment contract.

      December 4, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Will

    You can almost make out the Boeing logo next to the US Air Force one...

    December 4, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Christine

    You mess with US and we'll take out your communications in space!!

    December 4, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jt

    For all you WIKIleak people, this shows that of we really need to keep a secret, we can!

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

      Sweet; there are 2 1950's era, movie spacemen types, running out to greet the alien overlords that just landed...

      December 4, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • 56

      You crack me up.

      December 4, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Thoth2012

    This was a NASA project until funding got cut. NASA designed it. AF took it over rather then letting all that research die and promptly classified it. They can get the money to support it, NASA can't. Sad, spying is more important the research and exploration. Chinese and Russians can shoot down satellites from ground missiles. Just waiting for what happens when one gets shot down for making detrimental use of info gathered while being over Russia or China!

    December 4, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
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