The Space Force’s mysterious X-37B spaceplane landed back on Earth after spending a record two and a half years (908 days) in orbit. It landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 5:22 a.m. ET, marking its sixth successful mission to date.
While the agency is fairly brief about what exactly the Boeing-built spaceplane does, it did reveal that it deployed the FalconSat-8, developed by the US Air Force Academy in October 2021. This small satellite carried five experimental payloads and is still in orbit today. It also housed the Naval Research Laboratory’s photovoltaic radio-frequency antenna module, which is designed to convert sun rays into microwave energy and “transfer power to the ground.”
The spaceplane, which looks like a smaller version of NASA’s Space Shuttle, first flew in 2010, and we haven’t learned much about its purpose since. Prior to this mission, the X-37B carried a small number of satellites into space and returned in 2019 after 780 days.
Some other experiments aboard the spaceplane this time included one of NASA testing space exposure on seeds to “inform the production of space crops for future interplanetary missions and the establishment of permanently inhabited bases in space.” Another experiment tested the effect of space radiation on various materials, which NASA will then compare with materials here on Earth.
“Since the first launch of the X-37B in 2010, it has broken records and given our country an unparalleled ability to rapidly test and integrate new space technologies,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing Space and Launch in a statement. . “With the added service module, this was the most we’ve ever put into orbit on the X-37B and we’re proud to prove this new and flexible opportunity for the government and its industry partners.”