The US Air Force's Boeing X-37B spacecraft broke the record yesterday for the longest time in orbit around Earth. But we still don't know when the plane will land or even what it's doing there. All details about the X-37B mission are classified.
As of 6:43 a.m. ET today, the fifth X-37B spacecraft mission, called the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5), will spend 719 days in orbit – just 11 days shy of two years circling the Earth orb. The previous record was 717 days, 20 hours and 42 minutes, achieved just a few years earlier with OTV-4.
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Everything we know about the 29-foot long spacecraft mission comes from the smallest airplane description, which is easy to read:
] The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental testing program that demonstrates technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned aerial vehicle test platform for the United States Air Force. The main goals of the X-37B are twofold; reusable spacecraft technologies for the future of America in space and operational experiments that can be returned and viewed on Earth.
The Air Force notes that the vehicle is able to "return experiments to Earth", but we have no idea what these experiments may be:
At the command of the earth, OTV autonomously re-enters the atmosphere, descends and goes down. landing horizontally on the runway. The X-37B is the first NASA shuttle vehicle to return to Earth for further verification and analysis, but with an orbit of 270 days or more, the X-37B can stay in space much further long
Technologies tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flying systems, advanced propulsion systems, advanced propulsion systems Ernie materials and autonomous orbital flight and landing again.
The space plane looks a bit like space shuttles, which have been an incredibly exciting development for any child since the 1980s and 1990s. But the space shuttle program was killed and the vehicles are now sitting in museums.
In addition to your time in space, there are a number of other things that make this mission different. The X-37B completed four missions using the Atlas 5 rocket, but its last mission was launched on September 7, 2017 with the help of SpaceX Falcon 9. Previous missions were also launched from Edwards Air Force Base in California, but a recent shot was from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
What are they doing there? We have no idea. But given how bad things are going on Earth – between the global rise of fascism, the deaths of children in US concentration camps and the catastrophic fires in the Amazon – here's to hoping that the Air Force is developing some escape plan.
The tardigrades have apparently succeeded in becoming a multi-planetary species recently. And given the way humans destroy our own planet, it's as if they know what they're doing.