The X-37B, a mysterious space plane launched by the U.S. Air Force, will return to Earth on Tuesday. It will have been in orbit for 22 months. It’s mission? No one really knows. The X-37 project has been clouded in secrecy after NASA transferred the project to DARPA back in 2004.
The X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, will touch down at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The vehicle blasted into Earth’s orbit back in December 2012 and has notched an impressive 671 days in space.
This isn’t the X-37B’s first rodeo. It’s inaugural mission, launched in April 2010 and lasted 225 days. Another flight launched in March 2011 and returned to Earth 469 days later.
The X-37B planes use a solar array to generate power for the prolonged flights. The entire flight process is automated, and the X-37B will land on its own sometime Tuesday.
According to a press release from Vandenberg Air Force Base, the exact date and time for landing will depend on local weather conditions and technical “considerations.”
“Team Vandenberg stands ready to implement safe landing operations for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, the third time for this unique mission” said Col. Keith Baits, 30th Space Wing commander.
The X-37B looks a lot like one of NASA’s space shuttles. The biggest difference is its size. The X-37B is about 29 feet long and has a wingspan approaching 15 feet across.
The Air Force is expected to relocate the X-37B program to Florida after wrapping up a lease agreement with NASA. The Air Force is also looking in to using the runway at the Kennedy Space Center for landings.