America’s X-37B space plane launches into orbit off coast of Florida
Many of us know that the U.S. Space Shuttle program ended back in 2011, but did you know that the U.S. Air Force is operating a mini shuttle-type spacecraft known as the X-37?
The X-37 was first launched on April 22, 2010, from the military branch’s launch complex in Florida and, to date, this is mission is the fourth in a series.
The first X-37 mission was known as OTV (Orbital Test Vehicle) 1 and remained in orbit for 224 days.
The other missions, OTV 2 and OTV 3, flew in space for 468 and 675 days in Earth orbit.
What is the mission of the X-37? No one is really sure, but OTV 4 has been in Earth orbit for 500 days.
The X-37 space plane is small — just 29 feet long, with a wingspan of nearly 15 feet.
The payload area of the X-37 is about the size of a small pickup truck and one of the payloads is a new type of propulsion system, the XR-5A Hall Thruster.
The X-37 is a great place to test new technology! It is a true robotic spacecraft and one that has used the runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as its main landing site.
The use of the Kennedy Space Center runway may be added as an additional landing and processing facility.
Additional missions of the X- 37 space plane have added some amazing total time in space!
The recent missions of the X-37 have centered around reusable space technologies.
There is one X-37 A model and two versions of the X-37 B in the inventory.
OTV-4 was launched back on May 20, 2015 and remained in space for 717 days and was the first of the X-37 missions to land back at the Kennedy Space Center runway.
OTV-5 followed up with its launch Sept. 7, 2015 and created a new record in space of 779 days.
OTV-6 was launched May 17, 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and is one of the first of the new U.S. Space Force.
OTV-6 is an interesting mission, about to participate in some amazing science and related projects. One of the more interesting projects will be the evaluation of some old and new materials to the environment of space.
A mini satellite known as Falcon SAT-8 will be deployed from the bay of the X-37B craft. The mission of the small satellite developed by students at the U.S. Air Force Academy include the testing of a new propulsion system in space, as well as materials testing and Earth observation.
I am sure that there are some other National Security projects included, too!
Did you know that you can see the X-37 in flight at night, right here in Arizona?
As I mentioned in past updates, simply go to one of my favorite links, heavens-above.com, add your city and date and you will be given a list of satellites that are visible for that night or morning.
To spot the X-37, you should look for the OTV-6 listings.
To print your own monthly star chart, click here.
To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.
Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday at 3 a.m.