An unmanned Air Force space plane dropped out of orbit and glided to a computer-controlled California landing early Saturday to close out a classified 469-day military mission.
The reusable Boeing-built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle touched down on a runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at 5:48 a.m. PDT (GMT-7). The Air Force did not provide any advance warning of the re-entry and landing time and no technical details about the vehicle's performance were released.
But in a statement, the Air Force said the autonomous landing by the nation's "newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft" was executed "safely and successfully."
"With the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, the X-37B OTV program brings a singular capability to space technology development," Air Force Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, X-37B program manager, said in the statement. "The return capability allows the Air Force to test new technologies without the same risk commitment faced by other programs. We're proud of the entire team's successful efforts to bring this mission to an outstanding conclusion."
The X-37B was launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket that took off March 5, 2011, from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It was the second flight for the Air Force Orbital Test Vehicle program fo... [Read more]