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X37-B cover

X-37B is back to Earth after 178 days in the space

What the reusable unmanned spacecraft X-37B has done during its 718 days spent in orbit, ended last May, 7? As you know the spacecraft, built by Boeing Phantom Works (Boeing's advanced prototyping arm) was a Nasa project, then transferred to Darpa and Us Air Force, and has already done other three space fligths, equally mysterious given that Us Air Force doesn't communicate missions' details, being them classified.

LightSail tested

We know however that during OTV-4 mission a satellite, the LightSail, was tested to to experiment the use of light sails in the space, as well as an experimental Hall effect engine. The technicians that for first approached to X-37B after its automatic landing on the Shuttle Landing Facility runway at the Kennedy Space Center wore protective suits, officially to check the presence of possible hypergolic propellant toxic vapors around the spacecraft, but perhaps not only for that.

The small Space Shuttle's heir

It was the first time that the runway was re-used after the concluision of the last Space Shuttle mission, in July 2011. The X-37B looks a lot like those spacecrafts, but it has very different dimensions being just 8.8 meters long with a wingspan of 4.6 meters (Space Shuttle was 37 meters long and had a wingspan of 24 meters), so much that initially X-37B had to go into space on board of a Space Shuttle, but then the Columbia's and Challenger's accidents induced to more conventional launches through Altas V rockets.

Does X-37B try weapons in the space?

The extremely long-lasting X-37B missions brought many independent experts to believe that sensors and other satellites components are tested, but someone has also hypothesized that X-37B has also experimented component for anti-satellite weapons, hypothesis that the Us Air Force has many times denied. It's harder than X-37B could be used as emergency vehicle for the International space station, though idea was examined in past. Until we are given more information, we bring you a photogallery of X-37B back from its latest mission, courtesy of US Air Force.

Tags: Space exploration