This morning SpaceX launched the Air Force’s reusable X-37B ‘mini shuttle” Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) from KSC launch pad 39A, putting the vehicle on orbit and bringing the rocket’s first stage booster back to Earth for another successful landing on “Landing Zone 1” just a few miles south of the launch site, just minutes after liftoff.
“I’m incredibly proud of the 45th Space Wing’s contributions to the X-37B program,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander. “A strong relationship with our mission partners, such as the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, is vital toward maintaining the Eastern Range as the World’s Premiere Gateway to Space.”
The X-37B is led by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office with its operations overseen by Air Force Space Command’s 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron.
Built by Boeing, the OTV is designed to demonstrate reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operate experiments, which can be returned to and examined on Earth.
The X-37B’s first flight launched April 22, 2010, and spent nearly 225 days aloft. The second X-37B mission was launched March 5, 2011, and spent 469 days aloft. The third mission was launched on Dec. 11, 2012, and spent 674 days in orbit.
OTV-4 launched in May 2015, and stayed on orbit for nearly two years before landing at KSC in May 2017.
Boeing built two X-37Bs, and they alternate missions. The Air Force has taken over two former space shuttle orbiter processing facilities (OPF’s) at KSC, where the spaceplanes are now processed before and after flight (X-37B lands on the KSC shuttle runway nearby now).
The booster which launched OTV-5 is now standing tall at Landing Zone 1, but work is underway to quickly safe the vehicle and get it stored, as a powerful Hurricane Irma is raging towards Florida, and current forecast tracks bring it very close, if not on top of, the space center and Florida’s entire Atlantic coast.
SpaceX conducted several “controlled oceanic touchdowns” of their Falcon 9s in 2014, followed by four mixed-success efforts to physically land on their offshore barge (or ASDS), “Of Course I Still Love You”, throughout 2015 (that’s right, I said barge get over it).
The first wholly successful drone ship landing came in April 2016 and, since then, no fewer than nine Upgraded Falcon 9 first stages have been brought smoothly back to the ASDS deck. Added to this tally, with today’s successful landing after OTV-5 launch, seven booster cores have now accomplished “land” landings on Landing Zone (LZ)-1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Watch a replay of the launch and landing below:
.Missions » Air Force OTV »