Secret X-37B Air Force Spaceplane Returns to Earth After 780 Days

US Air Force X-37B returns to Earth after 780 days in orbit.
Image credit: US Air Force

A US Air Force X-37B spaceplane touched down at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida just before dawn on Sunday. The secret Air Force spaceplane completed a 780-day mission, longer than any before it.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-5 (OTV-5) was launched aboard a Falcon 9 on October 27. It was the first time an X-37B spaceplane had been launched aboard the SpaceX workhorse, with all previous missions launched aboard United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets.

According to the Air Force, the X-37B officially completed the record-breaking 780-day OTV-5 mission at 07:51 UTC on October 27. It touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility where it was met by Air Force personnel.

Although much of the OTV-5 mission is classified, an Air Force spokesperson confirmed that all mission objectives had been completed successfully.

“This mission successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites,” said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid.

The OTV-5 mission pushed the capabilities of the X-37B beyond its previous benchmarks spending nearly 63 days longer in orbit than during OTV-4. In the eyes of the Air Force, the milestone is not only an indication of the vehicle’s capabilities but also of the United States’ technological dominance in space.

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

The Air Force plans to launch the sixth X-37B mission aboard an Altas V from Cape Canaveral in 2020. To date, X-37B spaceplanes have accumulated a combined 2,856 days in orbit.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.