X-37B Space Plane Mission Extended Beyond 9 Months
The X-37B space plane hit its 270th day in orbit Wednesday, setting a space endurance record for the secretive U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities project, and its mission is about to be extended.
“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,” Lt. Col Tom McIntyre, the systems program director, said in a statement. “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 Los Angeles Times reported some analysts said the X-37B could be a test of an orbiting weapon for dropping bombs or disabling foreign satellites. The Air Force has remained secretive about its purpose, but an office fact sheet reported that "Currently, RCO is working on the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle to demonstrate a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the United States Air Force."
The plane, built in secrecy Boeing's Phantom Works in Huntington Beach and El Segundo, Calif., is also known as Orbital Test Vehicle-2, and was launched in Cape Canaveral, Fla. March 5. atop the Atlas 5 rocket, Fox News reported. At about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide, the X-37B resembles a mini space shuttle, boasting a deployable solar array power system that unfurls from the plane's cargo bay.
“We are learning new things about the vehicle every day, which makes the mission a very dynamic process,” McIntyre said.