The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6) on the Shuttle Landing Facility. Credit: U.S. Space Force

X-37B Space Plane completes its sixth Mission after 908 days

The X-37B Space Plane successfully landed at the Shuttle Landing Facility on Nov. 12, 2022 completing a Mission of 908 days in Orbit.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6), the U.S. Space Force’s unmanned, reusable spaceplane, successfully deorbited and landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on Nov. 12, 2022, at 05:22 a.m.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6) on the Shuttle Landing Facility. Credit: U.S. Space Force
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6) on the Shuttle Landing Facility. Credit: U.S. Space Force

The Mission

This was the sixth mission of the reusable Space Plane, built by Boeing and jointly operated by the U.S. Space Force and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. Known as Orbital Test Vehicle 6, it was launched to orbit on May 17, 2020, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The United States Space Force-7 (USSF-7) payload featuring the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is mounted on top of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket ahead of launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Photo Credit: United Launch Alliance
The United States Space Force-7 (USSF-7) payload featuring the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is mounted on top of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Photo Credit: United Launch Alliance

OTV -6 was the first mission to introduce a service module-a ring attached to the rear of the vehicle, expanding the number of experiments that can be hosted during a mission.

“This mission highlights the Space Force’s focus on collaboration in space exploration and expanding low-cost access to space for our partners, within and outside of the Department of the Air Force (DAF)”

Gen. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations.
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6) being incapsulated inside Atlas V Fairings. Credit: U.S. Space Force
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6) with its Service Module being encapsulated inside Atlas V Fairings. Credit: U.S. Space Force

The service module successfully separated from the OTV before landing, which is a necessary activity due to the aerodynamic forces experienced by the X-37B vehicle upon re-entry. In the coming weeks, the service module will be disposed of in accordance with best practices.

“The deliberate manner in which we conduct on­orbit operations-to include the service module disposal-speaks to the United States’ commitment to safe and responsible space practices, particularly as the issue of growing orbital debris threatens to impact global space operations.”

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall

Advertisement

Payloads

The Mission hosted a Naval Research Laboratory’s experiment called Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module: it successfully harnessed solar rays outside of Earth’s atmosphere and aimed to transmit power to the ground through radio frequency microwave energy. Additionally, the U.S. Air Force Academy’s FalconSat-8 was successfully deployed in October 2021 and remains in orbit.

Moreover, multiple NASA Experiments were deployed: the Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS-2) included thermal control coatings, printed electronic materials, and candidate radiation shielding materials. NASA scientists will leverage data collected after the materials have spent 900+ days in orbit and compare observed effects to ground simulations. This is helpful to validate and improve the precision of space environment Models. Another NASA experiment aims to investigate the effect of long-duration space exposure on seeds.

The United States Space Force-7 (USSF-7) payload featuring the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is mounted on top of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket ahead of launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Photo Credit: United Launch Alliance
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is mounted on top of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Photo Credit: United Launch Alliance

About the X-37B

The X-37B Space Plane is a derivative of the X-37A designed by NASA in the late 1990s, originally planned to deploy from the Space Shuttle. The program was later transferred to the Defense Department, and nowadays there are two X-37B Spacecraft. Both X-37B were initially designed for missions of 270 days, but as we can see, they have greatly exceeded that goal since the Spacecraft’s first mission in 2010.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6) on the Shuttle Landing Facility. Credit: U.S. Space Force
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6) on the Shuttle Landing Facility. Credit: U.S. Space Force

The Air Force, however, kept for a decade the X-37B Program completely hidden from the public and the media, but the Space Force is now finally showing it off. We don’t know when we’ll see another X-37B in Orbit, but the Program is definitely still at the very start.

Advertisement

Share this article:
Edoardo Giammarino

Edoardo Giammarino

Co-Founder & Administrator. Drummer and Red Cross Volunteer, born in 1997. I like analog photography and videomaking. Firmly music-addicted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *