Secretive Air Force X-37B space plane will take off in May and spend more than two years in space – Daily Mail

Secretive Air Force X-37B space plane is launching its sixth mission in May that’s expected to break its previous record of 780 days in low orbit

  • The X-37B space plane is set to go on its sixth mission on May 16 from Florida
  • The craft is expected to again spend more than two years in space after its prior 780-day mission
  • The space plane allows the US Air Force to secretly test new technologies  

By Stacy Liberatore For Dailymail.com

Published: | Updated:

The US Air Force’s mysterious space plane aims to break another record by again spending longer than two years in low-Earth orbit.

The X-37B is set to take off on May 16 and is not expected to return home until mid-2022 – the previous record was a 780-day mission that finished in 2019.

The mission, dubbed OTV-6, is set to take off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, riding atop a liquid fueled Atlas V rocket.

This pilotless craft has been performing a range of classified missions for the military group since 2010, allowing the group to test new technologies in space.

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The US Air Force’s mysterious space plane aims to break another record by spending longer than two years in low-Earth orbit. The X-37B is set to take off on May 16 and is not expected to return home until mid-2022 – the previous record was a 780-day mission in 2019 (pictured) 

OTV, which stands for ‘Operational Test Vehicle’, entails the Air Force launching a 29-foot long X-37B robotic mini-shuttle in to low-orbit in order to test new technologies, the National Interest reported.

The sixth mission will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 16 in Florida.

The Air Force has two X-37Bs that are swapped while one is undergoing refurbishment.

Powered by solar cells with lithium-ion batteries, the plane was orbiting at around 200 miles high. 

The first mission in 2010 lasted 224 days, the second a year later went on for 468 days and the mission that ended in 2019 lasted a total of 780 days.

OTV, which stands for ‘Operational Test Vehicle’, entails the Air Force launching a 29-foot long X-37B robotic mini-shuttle into low-orbit in order to test new technologies 

The sixth mission will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 16 in Florida. 

‘This program continues to push the envelope as the world’s only reusable space vehicle,’ Randy Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director, said in Sunday’s statement.

‘With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives.

‘This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites.’ 

The Air Force is usually very secretive about what the spacecraft takes to orbit with, but made an exception in its last mission.

The military group shared that the X-37B was carrying the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader built by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

According to the AFRL, the payload’s three primary science objectives are to measure the initial on-orbit thermal performance, to measure long-duration thermal performance and to assess any lifetime degradation. 

One expert has suggested that this aircraft could already be part of an early US Space Force.

Five previous X-37B missions have been launched by United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets. Each time the unmanned space plane has carried a mystery payload on long-duration flights in Earth orbit 

‘Ironically, the X-37B is exactly the type of program — toward giving the U.S. flexibility of operations in space — that seems to be prompting the current push for a Space Force, yet are already underway,’ Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, told Space.com.

Five previous X-37B missions have been launched by United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets.

Each time the unmanned space plane has carried a mystery payload on long-duration flights in Earth orbit.

‘The many firsts on this mission make the upcoming OTV launch a milestone for the program,’ Walden said at the launch last year.

‘It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community.’

WHAT IS THE X-37B SPACE PLANE?

The U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane looks similar to Nasa’s space shuttle but is much smaller. 

The space plane is 29 feet (8.8 metres) long, 9.6 feet (2.9 metres) tall and weighs around 11,000 lbs. (4,990 kilograms).

It is orbiting at around 200 miles (320 kilometres) high. 

The U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane looks similar to Nasa’s space shuttle but is much smaller. The space plane is 29 feet (8.8 metres) long, 9.6 feet (2.9 metres) tall and weighs around 11,000 lbs. (4,990 kilograms) 

Officials have revealed few details about the OTV-5 mission (the aircraft’s fifth) but according to the Air Force, one on board OTV-5 payload is US thermal spreader which will test the longevity of electronics and heat pipes in the space environment.

The craft is powered by solar cells with lithium-ion batteries.

Four previous X-37B missions have been launched by United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets. 

Each time the unmanned space plane has carried a mystery payload on long-duration flights in Earth orbit.      

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