Sunday, 5 December 2010

U.S. secret spacecraft returns to earth after 7-month mission 2010-12-04 23:14:46FeedbackPrintRSS

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxis on the flightline during testing at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Florida in this U.S. Air Force handout photo dated March 30, 2010. The first unmanned re-entry spacecraft, which spent 220 days during its first mission, landed at Vanderberg Air Force Base in California on December 3, 2010. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) -- A secretive unmanned spacecraft operated by the U.S. Air Force dropped from orbit and landed itself at a California airbase after a classified maiden flight that lasted more than seven months, officials said.

The landing of the X-37B unmanned spaceplane took place in the early hours of Friday.

The stubby-winged, robotic craft was sent into space on April 22 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard an Atlas 5 rocket. During its 224-day mission, the spaceplane was monitored by the Air Force Space Command Headquarters.

Some experts believe that the spaceplane, officially named the "Orbital Test Vehicle," was actually a miniature of a future space fighter.

The X-37B, with a length of 9 meters, a wingspan of 4.5 meters and weighed about five tons, was manufactured by Boeing Co.'s Phantom Works.

The X-37B project was initiated in 1999 by NASA and was handed over to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2004. The project turned a secretive one after it was later controlled by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.

The Air Force announced Tuesday that a second X-37B spaceplane would be launched next spring.