The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane returned to Earth on Saturday, wrapping up a secretive mission that consisted of the robotic space plane lasting more than a year in orbit.
The Huffington Post reports that Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander at Vandenberg stated:
“Team Vandenberg has put in over a year’s worth of hard work in preparation for this landing and today we were able to see the fruits of our labor. I am so proud of our team for coming together to execute this landing operation safely and successfully.”
The spacecraft, which measured 29 feet in length and having a 15-foot wingspan, looks like a miniature version of the now-retired NASA space shuttles. They are unmanned and reusable, according to Yahoo News.
The spacecraft, X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, landed at Vandenberg at 5:48am PDT, following 469 days in orbit. The unmanned craft was first launched in 2012, but very little is known about its mission or what payloads it could be carrying, because all of its missions are classified.
Yahoo News reports that Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, the X-37B program manager stated:
“With the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, the X-37B OTV program brings a singular capability to space technology development. The return capability allows the Air Force to test new technologies without the same risk commitment faced by other programs. We’re proud of the entire team’s successful efforts to bring this mission to an outstanding conclusion.”
Even launches and landings appear to be secret, as a May 30th Air Force statement only said that the spacecraft would be returning to earth in “early to mid June.” The X-37B is designed to stay in extended Earth orbits. Yahoo News reports that an Air Force statement that announced Saturday’s landing also mentioned that the X-37B will launch again later this fall.