US Military’s Mysterious Experimental Spacecraft Close to Making Record Long Orbit Flight
“The basic orbital objectives of the robotic spacecraft, which was developed by Boeing, are reportedly classified…”
by Kirrill Kurevlev
The military spacecraft certainly resembles the now-retired shuttle in appearance, although it is considerably smaller, reportedly measuring only 29 feet (8.8 meters) as opposed to 122 feet (37 m). Another significant distinction is that the X-37B is robotic, whereas the NASA shuttle was crewed.
The unmanned X-37B spacecraft operated by the US military is rapidly approaching a mission length record, the website Space.com reported.
On May 17, 2020, the X-37B launched to Earth orbit as part of the program’s sixth mission, also known as Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6). The US Space Force mini-shuttle has now been in orbit for 773 days.
According to the report, just one week separates the flight from the X-37B record of 780 days, set on the previous mission of OTV-5.
However, the current record pales with other absolute records of space exploration, as, for instance, the Landsat-5 satellite watched Earth from orbit for 29 years.
The basic orbital objectives of the robotic spacecraft, which was developed by Boeing, are reportedly classified, although some of its internal experiments were made public before the launch.
The US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has conducted an experiment to look at the conversion of solar energy into radio frequency microwave energy, according to the report, and the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module is the name of the experiment.
Additionally, OTV-6 allegedly involved the launch of FalconSat-8, a tiny satellite created by the US Air Force Academy and funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory to carry out a number of experiments in orbit.
According to Space.com, two NASA experiments are currently being conducted inside the spacecraft to examine how the environment in space affects a sample plate of materials and food-growing seeds. The X-37B mission OTV-6 is said to be the first to use a service module to house experiments. The service module is an add-on to the vehicle’s rear that enables the transportation of additional experimental payload capacity into orbit.
The spacecraft went on its first mission in April 2010, and with each flight spent much more time in orbit than originally planned. The previous OTV-5 mission started in early September 2017 and ended in October 2019, marking about 780 days in orbit.
When and where OTV-6 will touch down on Earth are reportedly unknown at the moment. While OTV-4 and OTV-5 landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, OTV-1, OTV-2, and OTV-3 reportedly did so at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
A US Space Force unit called Delta 9, founded in July 2020, oversees the whole X-37B program. It is believed that the Space Force has two Boeing-built X-37B vehicles in its fleet. The X-37B, like NASA’s previous space shuttle orbiter, takes off vertically on a rocket and lands horizontally on a runway.
The X-37B, according to Boeing, has a number of features that have never been used before in space, such as fully automated de-orbit and landing mechanisms, flight controls and brakes that are entirely electro-mechanically activated (without hydraulics), and a body made of a relatively light composite structure rather than conventional aluminum.