The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle’s mysterious nine month mission was scheduled to come to an end on Wednesday, but the Air Force announced today that the mission has been extended. The unmanned space plane will continue to orbit the earth for an undetermined amount of time.
Lt. Col Tom McIntyre, the spacecraft’s systems program director, said in a statement:
“We initially planned for a nine-month mission, which we are roughly at now, but we will continue to extend the mission as circumstances allow. Keeping the X-37 in orbit will provide us with additional experimentation opportunities and allow us to extract the maximum value out of the mission.”
The LA Times reports that details about the X-37B have been pretty hazy since its launch last March. The the space shuttle was launched from Cape Canaveral for a 270 day mission, but Air Force officials have been pretty tight lipped about additional details. What is known is that the X-37B is testing new technologies in space.
Major Tracy Bunko, a Secretary of the Air Force spokesperson, said:
“It’s still up there… On-orbit experimentation is continuing. Though we cannot predict when that will be complete, we are learning new things about the vehicle every day, which makes the mission a very dynamic process.”
Red Orbit reports that X-37B is currently orbiting 210 miles above the earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph. The Air Force is expected to keep the X-37B in orbit until it starts to run out of fuel. When it does, the Orbital Test Vehicle will make an unmanned landing at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California. When that will happen is anyone’s guess.