X-37B Space Plane Lands - The U.S. Air Force is evaluating the performance and condition of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-1), the reusable space plane that lifted off in April and remains the subject of much international speculation.
The unmanned spacecraft landed at 1:16 a.m. Pacific Time on 3 December at Vandenberg AFB, in California after 224 days and nine hours in space.
Though the service is not discussing specifics about OTV-1's classified payload, air force insists the focus of the maiden flight was the aircraft, not the payload or even potential payloads.
"Our ability to launch it and our ability to operate it were two of the key steps in the programme," says Richard McKinney, deputy undersecretary of the air force for space programmes. "But then the ability to successfully autonomously recover and land the vehicle was really the culmination of this first test phase of the programme."
Speculation on USAF's intended uses for the reusable space plane range from a prototyped orbiting bomber to an enemy satellite killer to a way to rapidly deploy and repair spy satellites.
The air service, however, insists the programme is, at this stage, just an experimental aircraft.
"This is a test vehicle," McKinney says. "That's what it is, pure and simple." Should it continue into service after the testing phases, the aircraft would be used as a testbed to see how technologies and materials react to long-term exposure to space, he says.
X-37B Space Plane Lands