The Pentagon’s secretive X-37B space plane has landed in Florida after a record-long orbital flight lasting more than two years, the US Air Force says, capping the latest test mission for an array of military technologies.
The unpiloted X-37B, built by Boeing, touched down on an air strip at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre on Sunday morning (local time) after spending 780 days orbiting Earth, the air force said.
The space plane, roughly the size of a small bus and sharing many design features with NASA’s space shuttle, was sent into orbit in 2017 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Its mission, managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office in Washington, was to conduct classified technology experiments in a long-duration space environment.
“The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane,” Barbara Barrett, the new air force secretary, said.
“Each successive mission advances our nation’s space capabilities.”
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle breaks record with 780 days in orbit after landing at @NASAKennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility at 3:51 a.m.
— U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) October 27, 2019
The previous X-37B mission lasted 718 days and landed in 2017. Sunday morning’s landing tallies 2865 total days for the program overall, the air force said.
The Pentagon, which is increasingly reliant on space technologies, recently created the US Space Command and is asking Congress to approve funding for a proposed US Space Force, which would serve as a new branch of the military.
“The sky is no longer the limit for the air force and, if Congress approves, the US Space Force,” air force chief-of-staff General David Goldfein said.