X-37B space plane completes sixth mission, lands after nearly 30 months in orbit

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 6 performed many US military and NASA science experiments

WASHINGTON — The X-37B space plane landed on November 12th at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:22 a.m. east, setting a new endurance record after 908 days in orbit. His previous record was 780 days.

This was the sixth mission of the reusable unmanned aircraft, built by Boeing and operated jointly by the US Space Force and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. Known as Orbital Test Vehicle 6, it was launched into orbit on May 17, 2020, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

On this mission the X-37B carried out several US military and NASA science experiments, including a Naval Research Laboratory Project to capture sunlight and convert it into direct current of electricity, and the US Air Force Academy’s FalconSat-8, which remains in orbit.

One of NASA’s experiments was the Space Materials and Technology Innovation Expo (METIS-2). Scientists will use the data to understand the effects of the space environment on different types of materials. Another experiment was to investigate the effects of long-term exposure to space on seeds.

The spaceplane is a derivative of the X-37A designed by NASA in the late 1990s to deploy from the Space Shuttle. The program was later transferred to the Ministry of Defense. There are two X-37B spacecraft, which were originally designed for 270-day missions, but have far exceeded that goal since the plane’s first mission in 2010.

The Air Force for a decade kept the X-37B under a cloak of secrecy, but the Space Force is showing it off openly now.

“This mission underscores the Space Force’s focus on cooperating in space exploration and expanding low-cost access to space for our partners inside and outside the Department of the Air Force,” said Gen. Chance Saltzman, chief of space operations. . statement.

“The X-37B continues to push the boundaries of experimentation, which has enabled an elite government and industry team behind the scenes,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Fritschen, X-37B program manager in the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

The OTV-6 mission brought a service module for the first time to host additional experiments.

The service unit separated from the OTV prior to landing. The Space Force said the module will be disposed of in accordance with best practices aimed at reducing the amount of space debris in orbit.

“With the addition of the service module, this was the largest amount we’ve ever had in orbit on the X-37B,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing Space and Launch.

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