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SPACE.com Columnist Leonard David

Is the US Air Force's Secretive X-37B Space Plane Headed for New Record?

Skywatcher and satellite tracker, Ralf Vandebergh of the Neterhlands, has released a new image of an over flight of the U.S. Air Force secretive X-37B space plane, also known as Orbital Test Vehicle-5.
Skywatcher and satellite tracker, Ralf Vandebergh of the Neterhlands, has released a new image of an over flight of the U.S. Air Force secretive X-37B space plane, also known as Orbital Test Vehicle-5. (Image credit: Ralf Vanderbergh)

The secretive mission of the U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane has winged past 670 days of flight – just 48 days shy from setting a long duration record for the program.

This Orbital Test Vehicle 5 mission (OTV-5) rocketed into Earth orbit on Sept. 7, 2017 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Exactly when the OTV-5 space plane will land is unknown.

Related: The X-37B Space Plane: 6 Surprising Facts

Long duration record?

The last Air Force's X-37B mission, OTV-4 — after 718 days of flight — touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017 — a first for the program. All prior missions had ended with a tarmac touchdown at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Prior to launch of OTV-5, Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office said there were many firsts on this mission, making it a milestone for the program. "It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community," he said.

Related: US Air Force's Secretive X-37B Space Plane (Infographic)

The Air Force also noted that the fifth OTV mission was launched into, and will be landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B's orbital envelope.

Meanwhile, Canadian skywatcher Kevin Fetter of Brockville, Ontario, caught the space plane in this video clip:

Leonard David is author of the recently released book, "Moon Rush: The New Space Race (opens in new tab)" published by National Geographic in May 2019. A longtime writer for Space.com, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as Space.com's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He was received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.