Air Force Prepares for Third X-37B Mission

The Air Force has begun launch preparations at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., for the next orbital mission of an X-37B reusable spaceplane, service spokeswoman Maj. Tracy Bunko told the Daily Report on Sept. 26. We are on track to launch” next month, stated Bunko. “However, the exact date remains subject to change” based on factors like range conditions and weather, she added. This will be the third mission overall for the two-ship X-37 fleet and the second space trip for the first X-37 vehicle, which returned to Earth in December 2010 after spending 224 days on orbit during its maiden voyage. The second X-37 spaceplane completed its inaugural orbital voyage on June 16 after 469 days in space. Bunko said the upcoming mission’s focus “remains on testing vehicle capabilities and proving the utility and cost effectiveness of a reusable spacecraft.” Both previous X-37 missions concluded with landings at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. But Bunko noted that the Air Force is “investigating the possibility of using the former [space] shuttle infrastructure” for X-37 landing operations. This means potentially utilizing the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for landings, reports Wired Magazine’s Danger Room blog.