Home » Space » Air Force’s X-37B Breaks Orbit Record

Air Force’s X-37B Breaks Orbit Record

by Mike Hoffman on April 1, 2014

X-37 Orbital Test VehicleBoeing’s X-37B space plane broke its endurance record in orbit last month when it surpassed 470 days.

The U.S. Air Force launched the Orbital Test Vehicle 3 in December 2012 on a classified mission. The X-37B is a fourth of the size of NASA’s shuttle and is collecting data for the U.S. military. Operations for the mission are run by the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Col.

The X-37B was launched into orbit aboard the Atlas 5 rocket from a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. It will return to Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at an undisclosed date.

The record for the longest space flight had been set by the previous mission by the X-37B for the OTV-2 that remained in orbit for 469 days. The first flight for OTV-1 took place in 2010 and lasted 225 days.

The X-37B program is overseen by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. The U.S. military continues to expand space responsibilities as NASA’s budget shrinks.

Boeing’s space plane which measures only 29 feet and weighs 11,000 pounds is serving as a test bed for a number of classified experiments in space.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Barry April 1, 2014 at 11:54 am

If only the AF was as successful with all its programs.

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Nick April 1, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Easy to declare success when no one has any idea what you're doing or how much you've spent.

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hibeam April 1, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Its a fourth the size of NASA's space shuttle. I wonder how cargo bay size and lift capability compare? I'll bet the 1/4th ratio does not apply there.

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tomatojuice April 1, 2014 at 5:00 pm

I have read somewhere in the past that the cargo bay is the size of a pick up truck bed.

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hibeam April 2, 2014 at 10:36 am

We could still haul a couple of black labs into space.

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TomcatViP April 3, 2014 at 1:42 am

1/4th the size means 1/16th the surface and 1/64th the volume ;)

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Richard Jones April 8, 2014 at 10:22 am

What a lot of folks don't know is the lift to weight ratio for the STS system (Shuttle) was almost identical to the old X1 and X15 programs. What the AF learned in those programs naturally progressed to the NASA lifting body program and eventually the STS Shuttle program. A lot of 'new' designs really just continue with data from past programs and previous designs. So I wonder what the lift to weight ratio for the X-37B is. Probably close to the aircraft that came before it.

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Ben April 1, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Super espionage space bomber!

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hibeam April 1, 2014 at 7:47 pm

I think it dips into the upper atmosphere to change it's ground track in a way that catches folks on the ground with their pants down. Or maybe it leaves behind little satellite critters that are to stealthy to notice?

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009 April 1, 2014 at 11:01 pm

Too bad it does'nt have info where the Malaysian airliner went.

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Daniel Smith April 2, 2014 at 3:28 am

I knew the AF was up Something, I just can not belive that the space programe ended with The last shuttle. Keep going AF. Thank-you DT for the info.

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Bernard April 2, 2014 at 8:49 am

Space drones baby! :-D

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anthony April 2, 2014 at 9:05 am

It broke the shutttles record.

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commenter April 2, 2014 at 9:12 am

What record was actually broken? There are many unmanned things that have been in orbit A LOT longer than 16 months.

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Dylan April 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm

The record was for an orbiter. As in, a self-sufficient, independently operating, 100% reusable space transport capable of reentry.

The Soyuz 'emergency capsule' docked with the ISS might have approached this record, but it doesn't really count because it's not out there on its own and it really isn't an orbiter.

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peters April 2, 2014 at 10:12 pm

The orbiter is NOT 100 pct reusable. Case closed.

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Hunter76 April 2, 2014 at 10:07 am

So what is a purpose of these very long durations?

I can't believe it's for biological experiments. Astronomy? NASA would be involved. Earth surveillance? What is the advantage over standard spy sats?

My guess the space plane is surveilling other sats. Particularly spy sats will have low observability. The long time is to analyze these weak signatures, and slowly approach their orbits. The plane is brought down to update the equipment. Eventually the plane might bring one of these satellites back down for examination.

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hibeam April 2, 2014 at 10:32 am

We are going to bring down someone else's satellite? Won't they get mad at us?

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blight_ April 2, 2014 at 11:34 am

Not if we hit the reset button.

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Tiger April 2, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Word today is Nasa is stopping work space ops with Russia.

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Hunter76 April 2, 2014 at 12:42 pm

DoD would first bring down "dead" satellites. You can learn a lot from the hardware.

Then the question comes, "Who took it down?"

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Tiger April 2, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Bay is too small.

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Hunter76 April 2, 2014 at 8:46 pm

Of course it would need an arm to manipulate and with shears to cut off solar panels and shrouds. Maybe further disassembly in orbit?

The arm would jettison itself to save cargo space for the trip back.

Aleksandar011 April 2, 2014 at 5:32 pm

China has successfully tested ASAT weapon in 2007, shutting down their old weather satellite (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Chinese_anti-satellite_missile_test), so it's necessary to have moving spy sat, one which can dodge missiles the way fighters does. Also X-37 can quickly switch from one area to another, unlike geostationary spy sats.

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Hunter76 April 2, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Of course moving sats make sense. But why as space planes? Why the long duration flights?

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John Deere April 3, 2014 at 4:33 am

Satellites have predictable orbits, thus they are vulnerable to attack.

The X-37 can manoeuvre in orbit, land, refuel, change/update payload and be back on station quickly, and for long durations, if necessary. It can operate as an surveillance platform, or, with a change of payload a platform for munitions delivery.

It's a versatile piece of kit.

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Hunter76 April 2, 2014 at 10:09 am

Def Tech would do its readers a favor, if it would just publish a list of forbidden words.

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hibeam April 2, 2014 at 10:34 am

Bossy is Verboten. Verboten! Carry on with your freedom.

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Hunter76 April 2, 2014 at 12:44 pm

No, it isn't. Otherwise we couldn't read your post.

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blight_ April 2, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Forbidden words do not exist. Posts that are deleted also do not exist.

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oblatt22 April 2, 2014 at 10:11 am

The great hope is that the X-37 is doing something amazing in secret because if its just doing testing like the defense department says it is then we have a very sad looking space program.

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Bob Shepherd April 2, 2014 at 12:34 pm

It would be nice, just once, if people who speculate and create conspiracy theories would actually do a little bit of homework about the purpose of the X-37B. This spacecraft has been built and is being tested for the establishment of a new and sixth military service (after the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard) tentatively referred to as the United States Space Force. Presently, the USAF is overseeing much of the activity surrounding the X-37B, a logical choice as its operational command arm. Much can be learned about America's military designs and ambitions in space by "googling" US Space Command or Military Space Force. America has air and sea superiority around the world and, to maintain its military edge in space with nations like China, Russia, Iran, and India venturing into this area, the US intends to establish and maintain space superiority, also. I say bravo! Go for it!

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Hunter76 April 2, 2014 at 12:49 pm

You could have written a much more interesting article than the author.

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tiger April 2, 2014 at 12:58 pm

That is the last thing we need…..

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MMM June 5, 2014 at 8:56 am

Sounds to me as if they think they are still in SDI discussions from the Cold War – except that Russia is no longer America's ally as it was during WWII – oh another space race. This time Russia and Ukraine; China and India definite possibilities,while millions remain starving, homeless and refugees.

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