The Air Force said Oct. 27 that its X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 has successfully landed after more than two years in orbit, breaking its own record.
The fifth mission launched on Sept. 7, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on a Space X Falcon 9 booster, per a Sunday release. Boeing [BA] developed the X-37B, a reusable and unmanned spacecraft performing experiments in space for the Air Force. The sixth mission is being prepared to launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 space vehicle from Cape Canaveral in 2020.
The fifth X-37B mission conducted on-orbit experiments for 780 days during its mission and, as of Sunday, the total number of days spent on-orbit for the entire test vehicle program is 2,865 days. The space plane is designed for an on-orbit duration of 720 days, and first landed at Cape Canaveral in May 2017 for Mission 4 after 718 days in orbit. The first three missions landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
“The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett in the release. “Each successive mission advances our nation’s space capabilities.”
Randall Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office which manages the program, lauded the effort as continuing “to push the envelope as the world’s only reusable space vehicle.”
“With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives,” he said. “This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites.”
Walden told reporters Oct. 25 that the “data is still out” as to whether the office would develop more X-37 orbital space vehicles. “I would say those two we have are workhorses,” he said, adding, “They are doing quite well in the experimentation and the prototyping that we ask it to do.”