The Boeing X-37, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), is a reusable unmanned spacecraft.
The X-37B spacecraft launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral. During its nearly 100-day trek in orbit, the X-37B has been spotted by amateur astronomers on Earth as it carries out is secret mission.
Despite the project’s general secrecy, the Air Force has been perfectly willing to release photos of the vehicle sitting on top of its Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and on the runway at Vandenberg airport Base in California where it lands, autonomously.
Project officials have revealed that the X-37B’s maneuvering engine runs on hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, and that it uses a different kind of thermal protection than NASA’s space shuttle did. The durations of the first three missions are a matter of public record (224 days, 469 days, and 674 days), and while the orbital parameters aren’t officially disclosed, amateur astronomers have been able to spot the mini-spaceplane through telescopes and figure out that it’s been orbiting at relatively low altitudes.
At an aerospace meeting in 2011, Arthur Grantz, a chief engineer with Boeing, the company that built the X-37B, said that the program had been evaluating the vehicle’s autonomous navigation and other systems.
Video Credits: Michael Martin