X-37B Lands at Vandenberg

Image Credit USAF

Concluding its longest mission to date, the U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane returned to Earth on Friday,

Here is the full Air Force Press Release:

Release Number: 041014

10/17/2014 – VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission 3 (OTV-3), the Air
Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane, landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9:24 a.m. Oct. 17 .

“The 30th Space Wing and our mission partners, Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, Boeing, and our base
support contractors, have put countless hours of hard work into preparing for this landing and today we were
able to see the culmination of that dedication,” said Col Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander.
“I’m extremely proud of our team for coming together to execute this third safe and successful landing.
Everyone from our on console space operators to our airfield managers and civil engineers take pride in this
unique mission and exemplify excellence during its execution.”

The OTV-3 conducted on-orbit experiments for 674 days during its mission, extending the total number of days
spent on-orbit for the OTV program to 1367 days.

“The landing of OTV-3 marks a hallmark event for the program” said the X-37B program manager.
“The mission is our longest to date and we’re pleased with the incremental progress we’ve seen in our testing of
the reusable space plane. The dedication and hard work by the entire team has made us extremely proud.”

The X-37B is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft. Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities
Office, the X-37B program performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development
for reusable space vehicle technologies.

The Air Force is preparing to launch the fourth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2015.

End Press Release

Note: Given the fact that the Air Force declines to offer any specifics regarding the X-37B’s purpose or mission, it is difficult to access what impact, if any, the reality of a re-usable, unmanned space plane will have on the commercial side of the space divide. It is worth remembering that the X-37 program began under NASA. Now, it is back in manner of speaking, as Boeing and NASA recently announced the conversion of KSC’s Space Shuttle Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) Bays 1 and 2 to process the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle for launch. Landings at the Cape are expected to follow soon after.

For Sierra Nevada, fighting desperately to find a place for its somewhat larger Dream Chaser, which offers a very different lifting body geometry, the X-37B program, operated under a cloak of secrecy and apparent budgetary impunity by Commercial Crew rival Boeing, must be simply infuriating.

Perhaps there is a lesson here however. It was a long, slow road for the X-37, (it has already been much longer and far stranger for Dream Chaser) and if nothing else, its success has clearly validated the concept of a small scale reliable, reusable space plane which stands in stark contrast to the Space Shuttle system described as most complicated flying machine ever built.

Unimpeded by the cloak of military secrecy which surrounds the X-37B, the Dream Chaser’s search for a customer may ultimately benefit from the example being set by the strange little space plane which will soon call KSC home.

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