US Air Force’s X-37B reusable space plane has finally reached a new milestone by continuing to be in orbit for more than 800 days.

The X-37B is a test vehicle that will be a pilot test program showcasing technologies for reliable, reusable unmanned space tests. It aims to showcase two things:

– Potential of reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space
– Operational opportunities for experiments that can be returned to and examined on Earth.

The X-37B is the most advanced re-entry spacecraft based on NASA’s X-37 design. It starts with a vertical launch to low Earth orbit altitudes, where it conducts test experimentations. Then, once it receives a command from USAF, it will autonomously re-enter the atmosphere and descend horizontally on the runway.

X37b OTV-5
The X-37B Orbiter Test Vehicle (OTV-5) successfully lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on September 7, 2017. (Source: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service/getarchive)

In 2021, its orbit lasted 224 days, and the OTV-5 held the highest record of being in orbit for 780 days (from September 2017 to October 2019).

The newest OTV-6 that launched from Cape Canaveral on May 17, 2020, had two publicly revealed payloads which include:

  1. Air Force Academy’s FalconSAT-8
  2. Naval Research Laboratory’s experimental Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module

However, with the advancements of the X-37B, China and Russia are doubtful that the experiments are done purely for scientific reasons. They are saying this spacecraft may also be used to bomb enemy satellites.