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Air Force

An unmanned US military spacecraft spent 718 days orbiting Earth in secret mission

It landed in Florida yesterday morning. / YouTube

AN UNMANNED SPACECRAFT that spent the past two years orbiting Earth in a secret mission has landed in the US.

The US Air Force posted tweets announcing the return of the X-37B spacecraft, which landed yesterday morning at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral after 718 days in orbit.

Multiple media outlets reported that the 29-foot-long spacecraft’s return caused a sonic boom that rattled central Florida and could be heard as far away as Tampa and Fort Myers.

It is the spacecraft’s first landing in Florida. Previous X-37B missions have landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.


It remains unclear what the spacecraft was doing during its time in orbit.

However, in a statement, officials said the X-37B spacecraft is “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the US Air Force”.

The X-37B is the first vehicle since NASA’s Shuttle Orbiter that can return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis.

The unmanned spacecraft was an original NASA project dating back to 1999. It ran until 2004 when NASA transferred the programme over to the US Air Force, which eventually resulted in Boeing creating its first prototype in 2010.

The Air Force has flown four successful X-37B missions, beginning with its first launch on 22 April 2010 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station which lasted eight months.

This was followed by its second mission in March 2011 and the third took off in December 2012, lasting 22 months.

The first four missions have spent a total of 2,085 days in space. The cost of the most recent and longest mission has not been disclosed.

Another mission is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral later this year.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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