Tuesday, December 3, 2013

X-37B Marks One Year On Orbit

X-37B Marks One Year On Orbit: On December 11, 2013, the secretive X-37B robot spaceplane celebrates one year in orbit. This controversial spacecraft has been out of the limelight for a long time, attracting almost no media coverage for most of its mission. The third flight of one of the most secretive objects in space has been its most elusive mission to date!

What is this all about? The X-37B is a small vehicle that's roughly the size of a small truck. It has wings, tail fins and a stubby nose. There's no cockpit and no crew on board. The X-37B does have a small payload bay with clamshell doors, similar to its older cousin, the retired NASA Space Shuttle.

X-37B is launched and controlled by the US Air Force. It made its first launch in April 2010 on a mission that was largely cloaked in secrecy. 224 days later, it returned to a flawless runway landing. A second X-37B vehicle was launched in March 2011. It remained in space for 469 days.

The latest X-37B mission uses the same vehicle that was launched in 2010, making this the first time that an X-37B spacecraft has been re-used.