The secretive X-37B spaceplane of the United States Space Force has returned to Earth after a record-breaking two and a half years (908 days) in orbit. It touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:22 a.m. ET on Saturday, November 12th, marking its sixth successful flight.
While the government remains mum on what the Boeing-built spaceplane performs, it did say that it would deploy the FalconSat-8 produced by the US Air Force Academy in October 2021. This tiny spacecraft, which carried five experimental payloads, remains in orbit today. It also housed a photovoltaic radiofrequency antenna module from the Naval Research Laboratory, which is supposed to transform sun rays into microwave energy and “transmit electricity to the ground.”
The spaceplane, which resembles a miniature version of NASA’s Space Shuttle, first flew in 2010, and nothing is known about its mission since then. The X-37B previously transported a limited number of satellites into orbit before returning in 2019 after 780 days.
Another NASA experiment on board this time around evaluated the impact of space radiation on different materials, which NASA will subsequently compare to those on Earth.