The U.S. Air Force's second unmanned, reusable space plane, X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-2, returned to Earth today (June 16) completing its mission after 469 days in orbit. According to a statement posted on the Vandenberg website, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-2 landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, today at 5:48 a.m. local time. This is the second mission under the X-37B OTV (Orbital Test Vehicle ) program.
The X-37B is one of the world's newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft and is the first since the Space Shuttle with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis. Boeing Experimental Systems Group is the prime contractor for the X-37B OTV.
X-37B OTV-2, was launched on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on March 5, 2011. The first X-37B OTV was launched in April 2010 and it returned to Earth after 224 days on orbit.
Since not much orbital details of the robotic space shuttle are revealed by the U.S. Air Force, the purpose of the X-37B missions has remained a mystery.
Earlier this year, there were were reports that X-37B was probably spying on China's space laboratory Tiangong 1. However, experts claimed that X-37B is unlikely to spy on Tiangong 1 since the orbits of the two spacecraft didn't match up.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is preparing for another launch of the X-37B from Cape Canaveral Air Force station sometime in Fall 2012 aboard an Atlas V booster. This will be a re-flight of the first X-37B OTV.
by RTT Staff Writer
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