Secret X-37B mini space shuttle could land today

Jun 14, 2012 by Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today
The first X-37B landing in 2010. Credit: Vandenberg Air Force Base.

After more than a year in orbit, the US Air Force’s clandestine mini-space shuttle will likely land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California sometime this week, with some reports saying it could land as early as today, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. It has been in orbit since March 5, 2011, but like the first X-37B mission that flew in 2010 and spent 224 days in space, the Air Force has not issued any information of what the craft is doing or where it is orbiting. However, amateur skywatchers and amateur satellite trackers have been keeping an eye on where the OTV-2 has been.

After launch it had a 331 km (206-mile)orbit inclined 42.8 degrees to the equator, but in the summer of 2011 the was raised slightly to 337 km (209 miles).

The craft looks like a miniature shuttle, and is 8.8 meters (29 feet) long with a wing span of 4.2 meters (14 feet). It can weigh up to about 5,000 kg (11,000 pounds) fueled for launch. The reported in-space design life is 270 days, but sources say that good performance on this mission enabled ground controllers to keep it aloft significantly longer.

Jeremy Eggers, a spokesman for the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg was quoted by ABC News that the spacecraft’s first available landing opportunity will be Wednesday, depending on weather and technical conditions. The landing window extends through June 18, but Eggers says any landing is a “day-by-day situation based on the conditions.”

Explore further: The source of the sky's X-ray glow

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GSwift7
not rated yet Jun 14, 2012
I wonder if this project is more of a technology demonstration rather than a specific mission platform. I really can't think of too many things you can do with this that couldn't be done with a conventional satellite or ballistic missile. The one idea that keeps coming back to the front of my mind is missile defense. If you wanted an orbital laser system with a chemical power source, you would need to be able to refuel the lasers after firing. Survielance or communication don't fit with this type of vehicle, so that really narrows things down. It's not big enough to retrieve old spy satellites, but it could be used to decomission them I guess. Has anybody here heard a credible mission for this thing?
fmfbrestel
not rated yet Jun 14, 2012
My guess: 1 part technology demonstration platform, and 1 part red herring.
GSwift7
not rated yet Jun 15, 2012
From what I have read, I guess the point of it is that it can do just about anything you want it to, since it has a cargo bay, and supposedly a robot arm.

They appear to be planning for the next version to be a bit bigger, and maybe be able to take astronauts in the cargo bay. It doesn't sound like they are ready to mass-produce the current version.