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Air Force’s reusable space plane to land after more than 15 months in orbit


A prototype unmanned reusable space vehicle on an unknown mission is slated to land at an Air Force base in California sometime in the next two weeks after more than 450 consecutive days in orbit. The X-37B, with a payload area the size of a pickup truck’s bed and a 15-foot wingspan, stayed in orbit more than five months longer than originally planned, though the Air Force would not say why the test mission was extended or what the X-37B has been doing. The X-37B is less than 30 feet long and launches into orbit atop a conventional rocket. This is the second prototype X-37B drone space craft to fly. The first one stayed in orbit for 270 days between April and December 2010. While remotely operated, that drone made a fully autonomous landing at the end of its mission. Astronomy buffs have speculated that the X-37B missions are conducting military surveillance. The first flight in 2010 had an orbit that took it over North Korea and Afghanistan, flying over the same points every four days.