Via Wired’s Danger Room:
After 225 days in orbit the Air Force’s mysterious X-37B space plane touched down today at 1:16 am local time at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. It was only the second fully-automated re-entry and runway landing in the history of space flight. The Soviets achieved the first in 1988 with the robotic prototype of their Buran Space Shuttle clone.
Space plane program manager Lt. Col. Troy Giese says that “today’s landing culminates a successful mission” which “completed all the on-orbit objectives.” But the Air Force has been consistently vague about what that mission really was; for a while, military personnel claimed they didn’t even know when the X-37B was coming back to Earth.
With a payload bay roughly the size of a pickup-truck bed, the 29-foot-long robot could carry sensors or even weapons. Its maneuverability — amateur skywatchers tracked the X-37 making four major course-changes — means it could sneak up on and hijack other nations’ satellites. Or it could be a mere flying laboratory, as the Air Force insists.
[continues at Wired]