After A Year In Space, Exact Touchdown Time And Date Still Undetermined
Preparations for the second landing of the X-37B, the Air Force's unmanned, reusable space plane, are underway at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
While the exact landing date and time will depend on technical and weather considerations, it is expected to occur during the early- to mid-June time frame. Space professionals from the 30th Space Wing will monitor the de-orbit and landing of the Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission, called OTV-2.
The X-37B launched March 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Since then, Vandenberg crews have conducted extensive, periodic training in preparation for landing. "The men and women of Team Vandenberg are ready to execute safe landing operations anytime and at a moment's notice," said Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander. It was originally scheduled to return to Earth after 270 days in orbit, but USAF officials said when that date was extended that keeping the the X-37 in orbit would "provide us with additional experimentation opportunities and allow us to extract the maximum value out of the mission.”
The overall mission of the X-37B is still not clear. The Air Force says it is strictly a test bed for other technologies, but some analysts have speculated that it could be the basis for an orbiting weapon that could be used against satellites, or as a space-capable bomber.