While in orbit, the covert spacecraft successfully deployed the FalconSat-8 of the US Air Force Academy.
The secretive X-37B spacecraft of the Space Force returned to Earth after an orbital stay of a record-breaking 908 days, or two and a half years. It made its sixth successful landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, November 12th at 5:22AM ET.
Although the agency remains largely mum on the precise functions of the Boeing-built spacecraft, it did confirm that the FalconSat-8 designed by the US Air Force Academy was launched in October 2021. This little satellite, which is still in orbit today and carried five experimental payloads, Additionally, it housed the photovoltaic radiofrequency antenna module from the Naval Research Laboratory, which is intended to transform solar energy into microwave radiation and “transmit power to the ground.”
The spacecraft, which resembles a scaled-down version of NASA’s Space Shuttle, initially flew in 2010, but since then, little is known about its intended use. The X-37B launched a few satellites into orbit prior to its mission and returned to Earth in 2019 after an absence of 780 days.
This time around, there were also some other experiments on board the spacecraft, such as one from NASA that examined the effects of seed exposure in space on plant growth in order to “inform space crop production for future interplanetary missions and the establishment of permanently inhabited bases in space.” Another experiment examined how space radiation affected different materials, and NASA will then compare those results to those from Earth.
In a statement, Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing Space and Launch, said that since the X-37B’s initial launch in 2010, it “has shattered records and provided our nation with an unrivaled capability to rapidly test and integrate new space technologies.” This was the most cargo the X-37B has ever carried to orbit with the addition of the service module, and we’re happy to have shown the government and its industry partners this innovative and adaptable capability.