U.S. robotic mini-shuttle to end 22 month secretive mission

n a testing procedure, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxis on the flightline in June 2009 at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. (Courtesy photo)

A U.S. robotic mini-shuttle will be ending its 22-month long journey as soon as the military can plan out its landing.

According to Reuters, the exact time and date will depend on weather and technical factors.  The undisclosed information only adds to the secrecy of the X-37B’s mission.  The only comment the military provides in regards to the space plane’s purpose was that many of the vehicles built by Boeing are designed to test technologies.

In August, Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems announced plans to expand its presence in Florida and to consolidate its space plane operations by using NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as a landing site for the space plane.  According to Boeing representative, investments will be made to convert the former space shuttle facility to a structure that would allow the U.S. Air Force “to efficiently land, recover, refurbish, and re-launch the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.”

DDN  reported that a lease agreement has been finalized by the Air Force and NASA to relocate the X-37B program from California to Florida. However, the mini-shuttle currently in space will land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  This is the site where it’s two other missions had ended.

According to Fox News, the X-37B space shuttle resembles a much smaller version of NASA’s retired space shuttle.  It is a mere 29 feet long and a little over 10 feet tall.  Its wingspan is 15 feet wide.  The old space shuttle could fit two X-37B planes inside it while this mini version’s bay is only the size of a pickup truck bed.

“The Air Force continues to push the envelope of the solar-powered X-37B capabilities,” said Professor Joan Johnson-Freese of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

This mission, one of many for this aircraft, began it journey from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in December 2012.

Retired General William Shelton spoke at the Atlantic Council last July on the topic of the United States and its future in space.  He said “space forces are foundational to every military operation, from humanitarian to major combat operations.  Space has to be there, [satellites must be] continuously deployed in place, providing communications, missile warning, navigation, space surveillance and weather services.”

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