MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. – After spending nearly two and a half years in orbit, the Boeing-built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle returned to Earth early Saturday, touching down at Kennedy Space Center.
Central Floridian social media erupted somewhat that morning with reports of loud booms. Though most simply questioned what the sounds were, many users offered such clues as a planned overnight closure of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to explain why room had to be made, and safety prioritized, for the craft to land.
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News 6 reached out to the wildlife refuge seeking confirmation that its closure was related to the end of the 908-day OTV-6 mission. A staff member said that they were not allowed to know what was happening as the refuge was closed, referring us to NASA instead. According to the staff member, the area reopened at sunrise.
Surveillance video, such as the example below, captured the sound that rattled the region:
The speculative social media posts began to appear after 5 a.m. Saturday.
As seen in the video above, the noise itself appears to have occurred at 5:17 a.m., and according to Boeing, the X-37B officially landed at 5:22 a.m.
Waiting for an official update & landing time, after going through several sonic booms reports, they seem to center around 05:17 am local time (10:17 UTC) purely from memory, sonic boom to landing on shuttle had like a 4 or 5 minute delta so landing time in the 05:23 ball park ? https://t.co/siVkh3hXQ7— DutchSpace (@DutchSpace) November 12, 2022
The X-37B, affectionately referred to with nicknames “secret spaceplane” and “mini shuttle” given its small footprint, shuttle-like appearance and classified mission details, was launched in May 2020 from Cape Canaveral. The craft rode out on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket as the U.S. Space Force was still in its relative infancy.
What we do know is that the X-37B is said to be meant as an experimental test platform.
Randy Walden, director and program executive officer for the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, described the experimental aspect in 2020.
“This sixth mission is a big step for the X-37B program,” Walden said. “This will be the first X-37B mission to use a service module to host experiments. The incorporation of a service module on this mission enables us to continue to expand the capabilities of the spacecraft and host more experiments than any of the previous missions.”
A statement from the U.S. Space Force further got into the experiments onboard.
Though the timing of the noise in the video above is just mere minutes from what Boeing confirmed, News 6 is working to get a definitive statement from the U.S. Space Force as to whether the landing caused the booms you may have heard. This story will be updated to reflect what comes back to us.
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