Secret Space Plane to Land in California

Landing could take place any day now.

X-37B

X-37B

** The X-37B seen after landing at Vandenberg
in late 2010.**

The top-secret Boeing X-37B space plane that has been orbiting the Earth for the last 15 months is scheduled to descend on Vandenberg Air Force Base “during the early- to mid-June timeframe,” according to a statement issued by the base.

The landing will constitute the second for the unmanned spacecraft, following the completion of the first X-37B orbital mission in December 2010. The second X-37B spacecraft, OTV-2, was launched from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas V rocket in March 2011 and has remained in orbit ever since.

Exactly what the X-37B has been doing during that time – or what it’s been carrying in its pickup-truck-size payload bay – remains unclear, as the space plane’s missions remain classified and shrouded in secrecy.

While Gen. William Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command, hasn’t disclosed any particular details related to the spacecraft, he did say just a few months ago that the X-37B’s current mission has been a “spectacular success.”

Originally a NASA project that was passed on to the Department of Defense in 2004, the X-37B spans a length of 29 feet and a width of 15 feet and experiences just 1.5 Gs during re-entry.

According to a chief engineer at Boeing, a larger manned version of the X-37B could also be in the works. The craft would have the capacity to carry five or six astronauts and would fill a need for cargo transport of delicate experimental material.

As for the X-37B currently in orbit, officials at Vandenberg say weather and technical circumstances will dictate its exact landing date. A landing crew is standing by to commence operations “at a moment’s notice,” Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander, said in a statement.

As the OTV-2’s latest mission comes to a close, the OTV-1 that completed the X-37B’s inaugural orbital mission is preparing for its next launch, slated to take place sometime this fall.