X-37B Returns to Earth

OTV-2, the Air Force’s second unmanned X-37B reusable spaceplane, returned to Earth after 469 days on orbit during its maiden mission. The orbital test vehicle—about one-quarter the size of the space shuttle—landed on the morning of June 16 at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., said base officials in a release “Team Vandenberg has put in over a year’s worth of hard work in preparation for this landing, and today we were able to see the fruits of our labor,” said Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander. The landing occurred “safely and successfully,” she said. Service officials have not disclosed the exact nature of the experimental spaceplane’s orbital activities. They’d only say they performed risk-reduction tasks and experimentation with OTV-2’s technologies, such as its thermal protection and solar power systems. Plus, they wanted to see how far they could extend the vehicle’s on-orbit duration beyond the 224 days that OTV-1 spent in space in 2010. The Air Force launched OTV-2 into orbit from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., in March 2011. The service is preparing for OTV-1’s second mission sometime this fall. (Includes Washington, D.C., report by TSgt. Julie Weckerlein) (See also our initial coverage.)