Science

American military space plane X-37B flew in orbit for more than 900 days

The US military’s X-37B robotic spaceplane just completed 900 days in orbit on its latest top secret mission, breaking the program’s longest flight record.

The current mission is the sixth of the X-37B program and is therefore known as OTV-6 (“Orbital Test Vehicle 6”). It launched on May 17, 2020 from the Space Force Station at Cape Canaveral in Florida, and it is not yet clear when it will end.

The OTV-6 is the first flight of the X-37B to use a Service Module for experimentation. The service module is an attachment to the aft part of the spacecraft that allows additional experimental payloads to be delivered into orbit.

The mission also deployed FalconSat-8. (will open in a new tab)a small satellite developed by the United States Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory to conduct several experiments in orbit.

In addition, two NASA experiments are being carried out aboard the space plane to study the results of radiation and other cosmic effects on a material sample plate and seeds used to grow food.

On the subject: US Space Force X-37B Secret Space Plane: 10 Surprising Facts

Technology testing

A US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) experiment is also being conducted aboard a space plane, evaluating technology for converting solar energy into RF microwave energy.

This experiment, called the Photoelectric Radio Frequency Antenna Module or PRAM, continues to receive data, according to Paul Jaffe, an electronics engineer and researcher at NRL.

“It’s still running,” Jaffe told Inside Outer Space. “The longer we are there, the more we learn.”

The X-37B undoubtedly had other payloads that we don’t know about on the OTV-6; many of the ship’s experiments and activities are classified.

Technologies being tested in the X-37B program include advanced guidance, navigation and control systems, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials and autonomous orbital flight, entry in atmosphere. and landing, US Space Force officials said.

List of flights

Here is a list of previous Boeing spaceplane flights:

  • OTV-1: Launched on 22 April 2010 and landed on 3 December 2010 after more than 224 days in orbit.
  • OTV-2: Launched on 5 March 2011 and landed on 16 June 2012 after more than 468 days in orbit.
  • OTV-3: Launched on 11 December 2012 and landed on 17 October 2014 after more than 674 days in orbit.
  • OTV-4: Launched on 20 May 2015 and landed on 7 May 2015 after nearly 718 days in orbit.
  • OTV-5: launched on September 7, 2017 and landed on October 27, 2019, having spent almost 780 days in orbit.

When and where OTV-6 will return to Earth, one can only guess.

OTV-1, OTV-2 and OTV-3 landed at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, while the OTV-4 and OTV-5 missions landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Chinese space plane

Meanwhile, China’s orbital spaceplane, cataloged as 53357/2022-093A, is also circling the Earth. It was raised in August. 4. Space tracker Robert Christie of Orbital Focus notes that a Chinese spacecraft recently ejected something into space.

Christie reported that this new facility separated from the main vehicle between October 24 and 30. According to him, these two objects are very close to each other and may be stationary.

Leonard David is the author of Moon Rush: The New Space Race. (will open in a new tab)”, published by National Geographic in May 2019. David, a longtime contributor to Space.com, has been writing about the space industry for over five decades. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom. (will open in a new tab) or on facebook (will open in a new tab).

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