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US military's X-37B space plane zooms past 900 days in orbit

The robotic X-37B keeps extending its flight-duration record.



On its most secret mission, the robotic X-37B spacecraft operated by the U.S. military just completed 900 days in orbit, breaking a previous record for flight duration.


OTV-6 refers to the current mission, which is the sixth for the X-37B programme ("Orbital Test Vehicle 6"). Uncertain when it will conclude, it began on May 17, 2020, from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.


The first X-37B flight to house experiments in a service module was OTV-6. The service module is an add-on to the vehicle's rear that enables the transportation of additional experimental payload capacity into orbit.


The mission also included the deployment of the small satellite FalconSat-8(opens in new tab), which was created by the U.S. Air Force Academy and funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory to carry out a number of experiments in orbit.


Additionally, the spacecraft is equipped with two NASA experiments to investigate the impacts of radiation and other space effects on a materials sample plate and food-growing seeds.


Technology testing

Additionally, the spacecraft is home to an experiment by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) that examines technology for converting solar energy into radio frequency microwave energy.


According to Paul Jaffe, an electronics engineer and researcher at the NRL, the experiment known as the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module, or PRAM, is still producing data.


Jaffe told Inside Outer Space that "it's still chugging ahead." "We learn more the longer we stay up there."


Many of the tests and activities performed by the X-37B are classified, thus it's likely that the vehicle carried more payloads that we aren't aware of on OTV-6.


According to U.S. Space Force officials, the X-37B programme is testing advanced guidance, navigation, and control, avionics, thermal protection systems, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems, advanced materials, and autonomous orbital flight, reentry, and landing.


Flight roster

A list of the spacecraft's past flights is shown below:


  • OTV-1: launched on April 22, 2010, spent more than 224 days in orbit, and landed on December 3, 2010.

  • OTV-2 spent more than 468 days in orbit between its launch on March 5, 2011, and its landing on June 16, 2012.

  • OTV-3: launched on December 11, 2012, landed on October 17, 2014, and was in orbit for more than 674 days.

  • OTV-4 was put into orbit on May 20, 2015, and it came back down on May 7, 2015. It was in orbit for almost 718 days.

  • OTV-5: after being in orbit for approximately 780 days, it was launched on September 7, 2017, and it landed on October 27, 2019.

Nobody knows for sure when or where OTV-6 will make its way back to Earth.


While the OTV-4 and OTV-5 missions touched down at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, OTV-1, OTV-2, and OTV-3 made their landings at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.



China's space plane

China's orbiting spacecraft, designated 53357/2022-093A, is also circling the planet at this time. On August 4, it was lofted. Robert Christy of Orbital Focus, a space tracking company, reports that China's craft recently discharged something into space.


Between October 24 and October 30, according to Christy, that new object disengaged from the primary vehicle. He speculated that the two items may be station keeping because they are so near to one another.


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Edited by: Satyavrat Singh

https://www.linkedin.com/in/satyavratsingh7

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