The advanced, unmanned spacecraft of the Space Force has returned to Earth.
Just after 5:22 this morning, the X-37B made its way back to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility. It completed a record-breaking 908 days in orbit when it landed. Before Space Force made the official announcement of its return, airborne observers surmised it had done so due to a string of morning sonic booms that were heard across Florida. Hazmat suit-clad workers can be seen checking and moving the 30-foot-long ship in photos posted by Space Force. Orbital Test Vehicle-6, or OTV6, was the name of this sixth X-37B space mission. On May 17, 2020, the mission was launched using an Atlas V rocket. Compared to the previous record-breaking OTV-5, which spent 780 days in orbit, this mission lasted over four months longer. The precise function of the reusable spacecraft has remained a secret, as have the durations of each mission, even though each voyage has seen it extend its orbital lifetime beyond the previous one. The most equipment ever launched into space was also carried on this expedition. This sixth trip was notable for the insertion of a service module that increased the X-37B’s capacity. The full list of experiments and apparatus used on OTV-6 was not made public by Space Force, but two tests examined the effects of radiation on various materials and the effects of space travel on seeds. U.S. OTV-6 also deployed FalconSat-8 from the Air Force Academy is launched into orbit.