US Air Force's mysterious X-37B space plane launching next month; what's its mission?

The US Air Force is preparing for the sixth test mission of its mysterious experimental space plane X-37B

The mysterious experimental space plane known as the X-37B will reportedly launch for its sixth test mission next month. Like its previous flights, the US Air Force's secret plane will probably stay in space for over two years for its mission.

The X-37B is an Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) developed by Boeing for the US Air Force. It is capable of launching into space and de-orbiting and landing on the ground like a traditional aeroplane.

X-37B's OTV-5 Mission

U.S. Air Force's X-37B Wikimedia Commons

Although the X-37B has been carrying out unmanned orbital test missions since 2010, the exact objective and other details about the robotic aircraft are not yet clear. Since its development, the US Air Force has been very secretive regarding the nature of the X-37B.

X-37B's last mission, dubbed as OTV-5, was launched on September 7, 2017. It returned to Earth on October 27, 2019, after spending a total of 779 days in space. This surpassed the duration of the OTV-4 mission that lasted for 717 days.

X-37B's Upcoming Mission

Boeing X-37B after ground tests at Vandenberg AFB Wikimedia Commons

For its upcoming unmanned test mission, known as OTV-6, National Interest reported that the US Air Force is preparing to launch the X-37B on May 16. It will be launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida via the Atlas V rocket, a launch vehicle developed by Boeing and defence contractor Lockheed Martin.

Currently, it is not yet clear how long X-37B's sixth mission in space will last. But, based on its previous missions, the experimental spaceplane will most likely try to surpass its current record of spending more than two years in space.

X-37B's Objective

It's still a mystery how long the US Air Force will continue carrying out test flights for the X-37B or when the space plane will be deployed for an actual mission. In a fact sheet about the aircraft, the military department explained that the purpose of the X-37B is to test technologies related to reusable spacecraft.

"The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold; reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth," the US Air Force stated.

Related topics : Space