Published: Mon, May 08, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Military orbiter's landing rattles Florida with sonic boom

Military orbiter's landing rattles Florida with sonic boom

The U.S. Air Force's unmanned, reusable vehicle landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center after spending a record 718 days in space.

In 2014, Boeing began consolidation of its X-37B operations at Kennedy Space Center by converting the former space shuttle facility, OPF-1, to a facility that would enable the U.S. Air Force to land, recover, refurbish, and re-launch the reusable unmanned space plane. The returning X-37B announced its arrival with a sonic boom, giving Space Coast residents their second booming wakeup call in a week.

Multiple media outlets reported that the 29-foot-long aircraft's return caused a sonic boom that rattled central Florida and could be heard as far away as Tampa and Fort Myers.

The uncrewed X-37B, or Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), came to a wheels stop along Runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF).

The spacecraft are believed to fly as orbital test beds for advanced technology sensors and other systems but the program is classified, and the Air Force provides nearly no details on the nature of the space plane's missions, what might have been accomplished or when the reusable craft might fly again.

The X-37B, which looks like a small plane, made history by landing for the first time in Florida instead of California.

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The X-37B is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft, according to the Air Force.

The landing was the first on KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility by a spacecraft returning from orbit since Atlantis touched down almost six years ago to conclude the final flight of NASA's 30-year space shuttle program.

Peaceful uses in space: The X-37B is quiet because it's a robot and doesn't talk.

The X-37B was also created to have the capability to operate experiments "which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth". The first mission launched in 2010 and flew for about 224 days. "We are incredibly pleased with the performance of the space vehicle and are excited about the data gathered to support the scientific and space communities". The uncrewed, reusable spacecraft launched back in 2015, tallying more than 700 days in orbit. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time.

Overall, the program's spacecraft have spent 2,085 days in orbit, according to the Air Force. It's part of a broader USA strategy to develop out-of-this-world technologies that can be used for multiple launches and landings.

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