Secretive US military spaceplane lands following record-long flight

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Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) spaceplane returned to the earth's surface on 27 October after spending 780 days in space on its latest mission. It's the Air Force's fifth mission under its Orbital Test Vehicle program. Goldfein added, "the sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the U.S. Space Force". Yesterday morning's landing tallies 2,865 total days for the program overall, the Air Force said.

The Air Force is expected to launch the sixth X-37B mission from CCAFS next year.

The Air Force's statement, although not giving much detail as to the nature of the many experiments performed by the X-37B, only fueled such speculation.

The first launch, which began in 2010, was only created to fly for 270 days, but now, almost a decade later, these Boeing-built space planes - of which there are at least two - have accumulated over 2,800 days in orbit.

The spaceplane conducted on-orbit experiments for 780 days during its mission, recently breaking its own record by being in orbit for more than two years.

"With a successful landing today, the X-37B completed its longest flight to date and successfully completed all mission objectives", Randy Walden, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office director, said in the statement.

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The next X-37B launch is set for 2020. DARPA continued the development of an approach and landing test vehicle.

Officials have revealed few details about the OTV-5 mission (the aircraft's fifth) but according to the Air Force, one on board OTV-5 payload is United States thermal spreader which will test the longevity of electronics and heat pipes in the space environment.

The X-37B resembles NASA's space shuttle, but at less than 10 meters in length it is considerably smaller.

"Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing", said Brig. The US Air Force boasts that the X-37B is the world's only reusable space vehicle (rockets don't count), one that opens the doors for even more lab experiments and small satellites riding on the craft in future missions.

The spaceplane program, managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, has been used for science experiments to test technologies in a long-duration space environment.

The U.S. Air Force has at least two reusable X-37B spacecraft in its fleet, and both have flown multiple flights. The launch took place on September 7, 2017 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

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