Air Force Extends Mysterious Space Plane's Mission - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Air Force Extends Mysterious Space Plane's Mission

Photo courtesy Huffingtonpost.com Photo courtesy Huffingtonpost.com

HUFFINGTONPOST.COM - The X-37B space plane, a secretive shuttle-like vehicle currently orbiting the earth at 17,000 miles per hour, will be staying in space longer than originally planned, the Associated Press reports.

The 29-foot solar-powered craft had an original mission of 270 days and, according to RedOrbit, the X-37B should have landed on Wednesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

"We initially planned for a nine-month mission, which we are roughly at now, but we will continue to extend the mission as circumstances allow," Lt. Col Tom McIntyre, the vehicle's systems program director, told the Los Angeles Times. "Keeping the X-37 in orbit will provide us with additional experimentation opportunities and allow us to extract the maximum value out of the mission."

The Air Force has said that the objective of the X-37B is to test unmanned, reusable space technology and conduct orbital experiments, but many skeptics think that the vehicle's mission is somehow defense or spy-related.

In May of 2010, The New York Times reported that amateur astronomers were able to detect the orbital pattern of the first X-37B, heightening suspicion that the vehicle was being used for surveillance. According to that report, the X37-B's orbital path included flyovers of areas such as North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

According to X-37B manufacturer Boeing, the space plane operates in low-earth orbit, between 110 and 500 miles above Earth. By comparison, the International Space Station orbits at about 220 miles above Earth.

The current X-37B flight launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in March of 2011. The first X-37B mission landed successfully in December 2010 after seven months in orbit. To look at more photos click here

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