The American unmanned spacecraft X-37B, launched into space on September 7, 2017 using the Falcon 9 booster rocket, returned to Earth on October 27, 2019. According to the US Air Force, the device successfully landed on the site of the Kennedy Space Center. The spacecraft spent 780 days in orbit, which is a record for the presence of unmanned aerial vehicles of this class in space.
The X-37B unmanned spacecraft program has been developed since the first half of the 2000s in the interests of the US Air Force. The device has a length of 8.8 meters and a wingspan of 4.5 meters. The take-off mass of the spacecraft, which is capable of landing in an airplane mode after returning from orbit, is about five tons.
To date, the X-37B spacecraft have completed five flights. The very first in 2010; it lasted 244 days. The second flight lasted 468 days from March 2011 to January 2012, the third – 675 days from December 2012 to October 2014, and the fourth – 718 days from May 2015 to May 2017. The total duration of all five missions was 2865 days.
Officially, the main objectives of none of the X-37B missions were disclosed. According to unconfirmed reports, in the future, space planes will perform reconnaissance missions and distribute various spacecraft in orbit, including small satellites. In addition, the military plans to use the X-37B to remove some satellites from orbit.
Currently, the US Air Force, together with the Boeing concern, responsible for the development of X-37B space planes, are preparing the sixth mission. According to the plans of the military, the unmanned spacecraft X-37B will again be launched into Earth orbit in 2020.
In addition to the development of the X-37B project, Boeing is also creating an unmanned spacecraft Phantom Express. The first flight model of the spaceplane has been assembled since November 2018. The spaceplane is being developed as part of the XSP program commissioned by the US Department of Defense Advanced Defense Engineering Agency (DARPA).