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: © 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)

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x-37b space plane

An artist's illustration of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane in orbit. The OTV-5 mission launched on Sept. 7, 2017.
(Image credit: Boeing)
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The U.S. Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4 is seen after landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida on May 7, 2017.

The U.S. Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4 is seen after landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida on May 7, 2017.
(Image credit: U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)
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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 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" 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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