BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Residents along the Space Coast may have heard a loud boom early Sunday as the U.S. Air Force's secretive, uncrewed X-37B spaceplane returned to Kennedy Space Center after nearly two years in orbit, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle completed its fifth mission, landing about 3:51 a.m. Sunday at KSC's space shuttle landing facility for the second time. The 29-foot long Boeing spaceplane - about a quarter size of a space shuttle - was greeted by workers in protective suits as it sat on the tarmac.
"The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane," said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett in a statement. "Each successive mission advances our nation's space capabilities."
The mini-shuttle was in orbit for 780 days during its latest mission, breaking its previous record. The spaceplane - initially designed for an orbit duration of 270 days per mission - has spent 2,865 days orbiting the earth. It is also considered the Air Force's top premier reusable, unmanned spacecraft. Its mission experiments are typically kept top secret but have a focus on Air Force Research Laboratory experiments along with providing a lift into orbit for small satellites.
"The safe return of this spacecraft, after breaking its own endurance record, is the result of the innovative partnership between Government and Industry," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein n a release. "The sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the U.S. Space Force."
The shuttle's latest mission launched Sept. 7, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, on a Space X Falcon 9 booster. The next flight - it's sixth - will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2020.