Skip to main content

The U.S. Air Force’s secretive space plane just set a new record

Air Force

The U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane this week broke its own record for time spent in low-Earth orbit — 718 days.

Its previous record-breaking mission of 717 days ended in May 2017 when the vehicle touched down at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility, reported.

Related Videos

The current voyage, called Orbital Test Vehicle-5 (OTV-5), launched on a Space X Falcon 9 rocket in September 2017. Its missions are classified so the intended length of its stay in space hasn’t been made public.

Indeed, not a great deal is known about the uncrewed X-37B beyond the limited information posted on the Air Force’s website.

It’s described as “an experimental test program” that’s used for demonstrating various technologies “for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force,” and has two primary objectives, namely to develop “reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space, and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”

According to the Air Force, the X-37B is the first vehicle since NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiter to have the capability of returning experiments to Earth for analysis, with the aircraft also able to land on a runway in the same way as the Space Shuttle.

Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry, and landing.

The U.S. has been accused in the past of using the X-37B to spy on China’s Tiangong-1 space station module when it was in operation, though experts in the field of aeronautics said it was unlikely to have been the case as their respective orbits were too different to make any spying mission practically possible.

As noted by, another of the X-37B’s mission objectives appears to be to always outdo the previous one in terms of time spent in orbit. The first mission, OTV-1, launched in April 2010 and spent 224 days in space before returning to Earth. OTV-2, on the other hand, spent 468 days in space between March 2011 and June 2012, while OTV-3’s mission, which ran from December 2012 and landed in October 2014, stayed in orbit for 674 days.

Editors' Recommendations

Watch this incredible video of a SpaceX rocket test
SpaceX testing an engine on its Starship spacecraft.

Rocket builders need to conduct multiple static fire tests of their boosters before they can send them into space for the first time.

That means securing the vehicle to the ground before firing up one or more of its engines for anywhere between seconds and several minutes.

Read more
ISS astronaut spots SpaceX’s Starbase facility from space
SpaceX's Starbase facility as seen from the ISS.

An astronaut gazing out from the International Space Station (ISS) managed to spot SpaceX's Starbase spaceflight facility in Boca Chica, Texas, some 250 miles below.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata photographed the sight from the ISS as the orbital outpost passed over the Lone Star State earlier this week. Posting the image on Twitter, Wakata asked his followers if they could spot SpaceX’s facility far below.

Read more
How to watch SpaceX launch a private lunar lander tonight
kplo launch korea moon screenshot 2022 08 06 132442

Overnight tonight, Saturday, December 11 to Sunday, December 12, SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket starting a private Japanese lander on a journey to the moon. The launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida will be livestreamed, and we've got the details on how you can watch below.

ispace M1 Mission
What to expect from the launch
The Falcon 9 will be carrying the ispace HAKUTO-R Mission 1, which will be deployed from the rocket around one hour after launch. The lander will then travel on to the moon, taking several months on its journey before a scheduled landing on the moon in April 2023. The aim is to create a commercial lunar lander that can carry both private and government payloads to the moon. This time, the lander will be carrying a rover called Rashid from the United Arab Emirates, as part of the UAE's first lunar mission.

Read more