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The American Secret Spaceplane That Spent a Record 908 Days in Orbit

American Secret Spaceplane X-37B
The American Secret Spaceplane That Spent a Record 908 Days in Orbit Credit: US Space Force

The American secret spaceplane X-37B spent a record 908 days in orbit and landed at Cape Canaveral on Saturday, November 12th, creating dozens of sonic booms and flashes before landing.

The thirty-foot-long robotic military craft touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida at 5:22 am EST with residents in the vicinity reporting that their homes experienced lots of shaking. They initially believed the shaking to be due to either a meteor or UFO.

One Twitter user wrote, “Holy Crap!…Was driving south almost to the Cape early this morning when I saw idk what streaked overhead. Meteor? UFO? Everyone on the road hit their brakes. Figured Twitter would know, lol, but I didn’t think it was going to be X-37.”

The Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6) mission was launched on May 17, 2020 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a specially modified Atlas V 501 rocket.

The mission of the American spaceplane was classified

Much like all previous OTV mission objectives were publicly unrevealed, the primary purpose of the Boeing-built, unmanned, reusable, autonomous spacecraft and the length of the OTV-6 mission were classified as well.

In comparison to the 780 days of OTV-5, the small, unmanned spacecraft, which looks like a mini-shuttle, spent a record-breaking 118 more days than its previous record in orbit.

The secret spaceplane has now completed its sixth mission. It has traveled 1.3 billion miles over the course of 3,774 days in space. It has flown around Earth on various trips since 2010.

Although X-37B’s missions are generally undisclosed, it also performs secondary tasks that are made public. According to the U.S. Space Force, the spaceplane carried a number of open experiments for customers, such as NASA and the Naval Research Laboratory.

Spaceplane X-37B
Spaceplane X-37B Credit: US Space Force

Disclosed experiments during spaceplane’s 908 days in orbit

The U.S. space force noted that this record-breaking trip was the first to include a service module, or “a ring attached to the rear of the vehicle expanding the number of experiments that can be hosted during a mission.”

The Naval Research Laboratory’s Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module tests the concept of harnessing solar rays and the transfer of power to Earth using microwaves. This was one of the experiments conducted on the spacecraft.

Through NASA’s Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS-2), the space agency’s experiment exposed thermal control coatings and printed electronic materials. It also carried candidate radiation shielding materials to the harsh conditions of space before returning them to Earth for analysis and comparison with computer models.

Another NASA investigation on the spacecraft also exposed the effect of long-duration space exposure on seeds and other factors to help with space-crop production on future missions.

In another disclosed experiment on the spaceplane, the US Air Force Academy’s FalconSat-8 was released. It remains in orbit as a “hands-on” laboratory for Academy cadets.

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Fritschen, the program director for the Air Force Rapid Capabilities X-37B office, said: “The X-37B continues to push the boundaries of experimentation, enabled by an elite government and industry team behind the scenes.”

He added that “the ability to conduct on-orbit experiments and bring them home safely for in-depth analysis on the ground has proven valuable for the Department of the Air Force and scientific community. The addition of the service module on OTV-6 allowed us to host more experiments than ever before.”

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