The seventh mission of the Boeing [BA] X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is, like the sixth mission, to include a service module attached to the spaceplane’s back end–a module that permits the carriage of more experimental payloads, Randall Walden, the director of the U.S. Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, said on March 4.
“It’s been a heavy lifter of doing experimentation in space for a lot of modernization activities for space,” Walden said of the X-37B during the Air Force Association warfare symposium in Orlando, Fla. “Some might even say we were ahead of Space Force and helping them out as they were maturing, and it’s been really, really good.”
Since the first mission of the X-37B launched in April 2010, the X-37B has spent about 3,500 days in space, compared to the Space Shuttle’s 1,320. Walden said that the current sixth mission has been in space 655 days and that plans call for the X-37B to spend two years on orbit for each mission.
The specific X-37B experiments, which the Air Force has said are classified, are to demonstrate technologies for reliable, re-usable, unmanned space test platforms.
Walden said that the spaceplane in its sixth mission will, before de-orbiting, jettison the service module so it burns up in the atmosphere. The seventh mission of the X-37B will come “not far behind when we land” the sixth mission, Walden said.
The X-37B’s sixth mission launched in May 2020 for the U.S. Space Force (Defense Daily, May 18, 2020).
Boeing has said that the X-37B was designed for missions of 270 days duration but has set endurance records during each of its flights. On the fifth mission, X-37B spent 780 days on orbit before returning to Earth in October 2019.
The sixth mission deployed FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), to conduct experiments on orbit. Two NASA experiments and an experiment sponsored by the Naval Research Laboratory were also on board.