The US Space Force Boeing X-37B spaceplane successfully completed its sixth mission, landing on November 12 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The device returned to Earth after being in orbit for a record two and a half years (908 days).
The space agency is in no hurry to share details about the X-37B mission. It is only reported that in October 2021, the FalconSat-8 satellite, developed by the US Air Force Academy, was deployed on the spaceplane. This small satellite carried 5 experimental payloads and is still in orbit today. It also housed the Naval Research Laboratory’s photovoltaic RF antenna module, which is designed to convert sunlight into microwave energy and “transmit power to the ground.”
In addition, some NASA experiments were carried out on board the spaceplane. In particular, the effects of outer space on seeds were tested to help “create space cultures for future interplanetary missions and the creation of permanent habitable bases in space.” Another experiment tested the effect of cosmic radiation on various materials, which NASA will then compare with materials on Earth.
This is the sixth X-37B mission. The ship made its first flight in 2010, it lasted 244 days. The second flight lasted 468 days from March 2011 to January 2012, the third – 675 days (from December 2012 to October 2014), the fourth – 718 days (from May 2015 to May 2017), the fifth – 780 days (from September 2017 to October 2019). Taking into account the last sixth flight, the total flight time was 3773 days (more than 10 years).
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“Since the first launch of the X-37B in 2010, it has broken records and provided our country with an unrivaled opportunity to rapidly test and integrate new space technologies,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing Space and Launch. “With the addition of the service module, this was the largest volume we have ever put into orbit on the X-37B, and we are proud to be able to prove this new and flexible capability to the government and its industry partners.”
Source: The Verge
The X-37B is a reusable orbital unmanned spaceplane that looks like a shuttle. Its length is 8.8 meters, and the wingspan is 4.6 meters. The spaceplane is delivered into orbit by a launch vehicle, and the ship lands in airplane mode on its own, like space shuttles.