Saturday, June 16, 2012

Air Force's X-37B Space Plane Lands

Courtesy, here's official video of the US Air Force's unmanned X-37B landing early this morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Lompoc, California (about 100 miles or 177 kilometers from where I grew up). According to the report, the secret, experimental craft aka Orbital Test Vehicle-2 (OTV-2) had been in orbit since being launched March 5, 2011 (15 months), and was the second one flown by the Air Force. The X-37 project began in 1999 as a test bed for NASA until its funding ended. DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) took over the project in 2004, with the Air Force taking charge in 2006.

The video released by Vandenberg AFB begins in infrared light, so the bright parts would represent heat from the X-37B's descent into the atmosphere. Then it switches to normal light, which is not very bright since it is ten minutes to six o'clock in the morning at the Pacific Coast base. Note that the plane is only 9.5 feet (2.9 meters) tall and 29 feet (8.9 m) long, with a wingspan of 15 feet (4.5 m). Its payload bay is about the size of a pickup truck's bed. Boeing has done some study for a larger X-37C, which could be configured to carry a crew of 6 astronauts in low earth orbit.

More photos and graphics of the X37-B can be found here.

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