X-37B Entering Second Year in Orbit

Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle
Image Credit: US Air Force

The Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-2) is now well into its second year in orbit. The first spacecraft (OTV-1) was launched on 22 April 2010, and remained in orbit for 220 days before returning on 3 December 2010.

The second vehicle was launched on 5 March 2011. The first vehicle was brought back earlier than its 270 day operational lifetime in order to take advantage of the early orbiting of OTV-2. Post landing evaluations of OTV-1 indicated that it could easily have exceeded the 270 day life expectancy. This is certainly borne out by the time OTV-2 has spent in space.

Of course the Air Force is saying nothing about the mission other than it is testing the capabilities of the spacecraft. The mission of the spacecraft was extended in late November, 2011. The Air Force is tentatively scheduling a third mission in the Fall of 2012, using OTV-1.

Ted Molczan, a respected amateur satellite observer based in Canada, notes:

Its ground track repeats almost exactly every 31 revolutions, which takes just under two days. Ground tracks that repeat every two to four days are a common feature of U.S. imagery intelligence satellites, but that is insufficient information to confidently assess the mission of OTV 2-1.

The X-37B’s orbit tracks above the part of Earth between 42.8 degrees north and 42.8 degrees south latitude.

The X-37B stretches 29 feet long and has a wing span of 14 feet. It can weigh up to 11,000 pounds fueled for launch.

Launch of OTV-2
Image Credit: Pat Corkery/United Launch Alliance

OTV-2 in Space
Image Credit: Boeing Co.


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