Defense

June 18, 2012

Second Boeing-built X-37B successfully completes first flight

469-day mission tested capabilities of reusable unmanned vehicle

The Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane landed in the early morning of June 16 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., a successful conclusion to a record-setting test-flight mission that began March 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane landed in the early morning of June 16 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., a successful conclusion to a record-setting test-flight mission that began March 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, one of two such vehicles, spent 469 days in orbit to conduct on-orbit experiments, primarily checkout of the vehicle itself.

The X-37B landed at 5:48 a.m., PDT, June 16. It was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., March 5, 2011.

Designed to be launched like a satellite and land like an airplane, the second X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, built by Boeing for the U.S. Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, is an affordable, reusable space vehicle.

“The vehicle was designed for a mission duration of about 270 days,” said Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, the X-37B program manager. “We knew from post-flight assessments from the first mission that OTV-1 could have stayed in orbit longer. So one of the goals of this mission was to see how much farther we could push the on-orbit duration.”

Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program performs risk reduction, experimentation, and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies. The X-37B mission is the longest space mission only after the NASA Discovery shuttle program.

“We congratulate the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base on this second successful mission,” said Paul Rusnock, Boeing vice president of Government Space Systems. “With OTV-1, we proved that unmanned space vehicles can be sent into orbit and safely recovered. With OTV-2, we tested the vehicle design even further by extending the 220-day mission duration of the first vehicle, and testing additional capabilities. We look forward to the second launch of OTV-1 later this year and the opportunity to demonstrate that the X-37B is an affordable space vehicle that can be repeatedly reused.”

OTV-1 was the United States’ first unmanned vehicle to return from space and land on its own. Previously, the space shuttle was the only space vehicle capable of returning to Earth and being reused. The innovative X-37B combines the best of an aircraft and a spacecraft into an affordable, responsive unmanned vehicle.

The Boeing-built X-37B autonomously landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., June 16 after a successful 469-day mission.

The 11,000-pound state-of-the-art vehicle, which is about a fourth the size of the shuttle, allows space technology experts to continue sending up experiments, with results returning safely to Earth for study.

“With the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, the X-37B OTV program brings a singular capability to space technology development,” McIntyre said. “The return capability allows the Air Force to test new technologies without the same risk commitment faced by other programs”

The X-37B program is demonstrating a reliable, reusable unmanned space test platform for the Air Force. Its objectives include space experimentation, risk reduction, and concept-of-operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies that could become key enablers for future space missions.

The vehicle was initially a NASA initiative, but was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2004. When it first launched in 2006, it was lauded for its cutting-edge technologies, such as the auto de-orbit capability, thermal protection tiles, and high-temperature components and seals.

“The X-37B’s advanced thermal protection and solar power systems, and environmental modeling and range safety technologies are just some of the technologies being tested,” said McIntyre. “Each mission helps us continue to advance the state-of-the-art in these areas.”

Stretching 29 feet in length and weighing 11,000 pounds, the second Boeing-built X-37B became the longest on-orbit space vehicle today when it completed a 469-day mission.




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