Vandenberg Air Force Base, California -- The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), the Air Force's unmanned, reusable space plane, landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 5:48 a.m. (PDT) on June 16, 2012, officials reported.
OTV-2, which launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., March 5, 2011, conducted on-orbit experiments for 469 days during its mission.
"Team Vandenberg has put in over a year's worth of hard work in preparation for this landing and today we were able to see the fruits of our labor," said Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander. "I am so proud of our team for coming together to execute this landing operation safely and successfully."
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.
"With the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, the X-37B OTV program brings a singular capability to space technology development," said Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, X-37B program manager. "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 Air Force is preparing for another launch of the X-37B from Cape Canaveral Air Force station sometime in Fall 2012 aboard an Atlas V booster. This will be a re-flight of the first X-37B OTV, which was successfully recovered at Vandenberg AFB Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days on orbit.
The first OTV was launched in April 2010 and orbited for approximately eight months.
Boeing says that the X-37B design combines the best of aircraft and spacecraft design into an affordable, unmanned space-based test platform. Program objectives include space experimentation, risk reduction, and concept-of-operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.
PHOTO: The second Boeing [NYSE: BA] X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, built for the U.S. Air Force, is shown above during encapsulation within the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 5-meter fairing at Astrotech in Titusville, Florida, on February 8, 2011 / Credit: Boeing