USAF’s X-37B reusable spacecraft breaks endurance record

29 October 2019 (Last Updated October 29th, 2019 10:26)

The US Air Force’s (USAF) X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) Mission 5 spaceplane has landed in Florida, US, after spending 780 days in orbit.

USAF’s X-37B reusable spacecraft breaks endurance record
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on 27 October. Credit: U.S. Air Force.

The US Air Force’s (USAF) X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) Mission 5 spaceplane has landed in Florida, US, after spending 780 days in orbit.

The spacecraft landed at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on 27 October. The orbital flight broke X-37B’s previous endurance record of 718 days in orbit.

During the mission, the reusable unmanned spacecraft conducted on-orbit technology experiments.

The fifth mission was sent into orbit in September 2017 on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The test vehicle has so far spent 2,865 days in orbit as part of the programme.

USAF Secretary Barbara Barrett said: “The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane. Each successive mission advances our nation’s space capabilities.”

Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B OTV programme seeks to demonstrate technologies for ‘a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform’ for the USAF.

The programme involves ‘risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies’, the USAF said in a statement.

USAF Chief of Staff general David Goldfein said: “The safe return of this spacecraft, after breaking its own endurance record, is the result of the innovative partnership between government and industry.

“The sky is no longer the limit for the airforce and, if Congress approves, the US Space Force.”

The test vehicle provides the capability to test new technologies in space and return them to Earth. The programme is in line with the US strategy to maintain its position in the space domain.

Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director Randy Walden said: “This programme continues to push the envelope as the world’s only reusable space vehicle.

“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 sixth X-37B mission is planned to be launched next year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.