Top secret space plane: American X-37B aircraft lands after secret mission lasting almost two years

The unmanned aircraft, seen here in infrared, took off in 2012

Rob Williams
Saturday 18 October 2014 17:13
Comments
This June 16, 2012 file image from video made available by the Vandenberg Air Force Base shows an infrared view of the X-37B unmanned spacecraft landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
This June 16, 2012 file image from video made available by the Vandenberg Air Force Base shows an infrared view of the X-37B unmanned spacecraft landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

A top secret unmanned space plane, that has spent nearly two years circling the Earth on a classified mission, has landed at a US Air Force base on the Southern California coast.

The aircraft, which resembles a miniature version of the space shuttle, safely touched down at 9.24am on Friday at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Theories have abounded as to the highly classified mission undertaken by the Orbital Test Vehicle or X-37B during its 674 days in orbit.

Among them is the suggestion that the aircraft was used to spy on China's new space laboratory.

Several experts have theorized it carried a payload of spy gear in its cargo bay.

Other theories sound straight out of a James Bond film, including that the spacecraft would be able to capture the satellites of other nations.

The X-37B, the Air Force's first unmanned re-entry spacecraft, after landing on December 3, 2010

The US Air Force has remained tight-lipped on what the plane was doing in space, saying only that it had been conducting "on-orbit experiments."

The X-37B program has been an orphan of sorts, bouncing since its inception in 1999 between several federal agencies, NASA among them. It now resides under the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office.

The plane that landed Friday is one of two built by Boeing. This is the program's third mission, and began in December 2012.

Technicians examining the X-37B unmanned spaceplane shortly after landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif

The plane stands 9. 1/2 feet (2.9 meters) tall and is just over 29 feet (almost 9 meters) long, with a wingspan under 15 feet (4.5 meters). It weighs 11,000 pounds (4,989 kilograms) and has solar panels that unfurl to charge its batteries once in orbit.

The Air Force said it plans to launch the fourth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida, next year.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in