February 2, 2023

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The Space Force X-37B spaceplane returns to Earth after more than two years in space

The Space Force’s mysterious X-37B spaceplane has landed back on Earth after spending two and a half years (908 days) in orbit that broke all records. It landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:22 am ET on Saturday, November 12, marking its sixth successful mission to date.

While the agency is fairly tight-lipped about exactly what the Boeing-built spaceplane does, it revealed that it deployed the FalconSat-8 developed by the US Air Force Academy in October 2021. This small satellite carried five experimental payloads and is still in orbit now. It also housed the Naval Research Laboratory’s high-frequency photovoltaic antenna module, designed to convert solar radiation into microwave energy and “transmit energy to the ground.”

The spaceplane, which looks like a smaller version of NASA’s space shuttle, first took to the air in 2010, and we haven’t learned much about its purpose since. Prior to this mission, the X-37B launched a small number of satellites and returned in 2019 after 780 days.

Some other experiments aboard the spaceplane included one this time by NASA testing space exposure of seeds to “inform space crop production for future interplanetary missions and the establishment of permanently inhabited bases in space.” Another experiment tested the effects of space radiation on various materials, which NASA will then compare to materials here on Earth.

“Since the X-37B’s first launch in 2010, it has broken records and given our nation an unrivaled ability to rapidly test and integrate new space technologies,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing Space and Launch, in a statement . “With the added service module, this was the maximum we have ever put into orbit on the X-37B and we are proud to be able to demonstrate this new and flexible capability to the government and their industry partners.”