The US Air Force’s X-37B unmanned automatic reusable “space plane” has broken its previous record for the longest stay in space. The device has already been in orbit for 781 days, overcoming the previous bar of 780 days. It should be noted that initially, the X-37B spaceplane was designed to carry out missions in orbit lasting no more than 270 days.
The current mission, Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6), launched on May 17, 2020, and has no plans to end yet. As usual, most of the payloads on the spaceplane are classified, although not all of them belong to the military.
The Boeing Company announced the achievement of a new record on Twitter. The X-37B spaceplane first took off in 2010 and continues to fly to this day, making it one of the most enduring spacecraft in the world. Take-off loads and subsequent re-entry into the atmosphere have a very strong effect on the spaceplane and its components and assemblies. Despite all this, the device takes off again and again.
The current X-37B mission includes several classified payloads, but some of the onboard experiments have been made public. In particular, the testing of a unit for transmitting energy from space to Earth. The spaceplane carried two payloads under the NASA program to test the effects of radiation on plant seeds and evaluate the effects of space on various materials. Five more experimental payloads were submitted to the US Air Force Academy, including the FalconSat-8 satellite.
The X-37B spaceplane is broadly similar to NASA’s decommissioned Space Shuttle but much smaller. The length of the X-37B is 8.8 m, with a wingspan of 4.6 m and a height of 2.9 m. The total launch weight of the spaceplane is 4990 kg. The device operates at altitudes from 240 to 805 km. Entry into the atmosphere and landing on the runway are automatic.
As per the data from its last launch in 2020, since its first launch in 2010, the X-37B has spent more than 2,865 days in orbit, travelling over 1.6 billion km on six missions. The current data is not yet out.