US Air Force’s X-37B Space Plane Returns to Earth After a 15-Month Secret Mission

Posted on June 19, 2012

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The Air Force’s X-37B–its secret robotic space plane that’s been orbiting the Earth on a

English: X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle was tested...

mission shrouded in mystery for more than a year–landed safely in the wee hours Saturday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Orbital Test Vehicle 2 (OTV-2) is the second X-37B test vehicle to successfully complete an orbital mission and autonomously return to Earth, following sister spacecraft OTV-1’s 225-day mission in 2010.

That original mission lasted 224 days, a figure that at the time was mind-blowing for a top secret robotic spaceplane. It led to wide speculation about what the X-37B’s are really capable of–the Air Force maintains that it is simply learning how to quickly recover and launch robotic spaceplanes, nothing more–as well as what their pickup-truck-sized cargo bays might be holding (the Air Force is silent on the latter point).

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