Pixel Tracker

Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 9:02 am | Fair 47º


Secret Space Plane to Land at Vandenberg Air Force Base After Record Orbit

Return to earth reportedly could occur as soon as Tuesday after spending 663 days in space

The military is prepping for the third return of its secret reusable space plane at Vandenberg Air Force Base, with the landing possibly as soon as Tuesday.

The unmanned X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle has been circling Earth since riding aboard an Atlas V rocket that launched Dec. 11, 2012, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The autonomous vehicle will land on Vandenberg’s runway, which was originally built to accommodate the much larger space shuttle orbiter. The West Coast program was canceled before any missions occurred at the base.

Vandenberg officials would only say the X-37B’s exact landing date and time will depend on technical and weather considerations.

However, notices to aviators and mariners are warning them to stay away from the area between 3 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“Team Vandenberg stands ready to implement safe landing operations for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, the third time for this unique mission,” said Air Force Col. Keith Balts, commander of the 30th Space Wing.

If conditions are optimum, the landing may create a sonic boom, but it’s not clear if it will be heard by Central Coast residents.

Crews at Vandenberg will monitor the de-orbit and landing of the X-37B.

The landing is something crews at the base have readied for since the vehicle’s launch into obit nearly two years ago, Vandenberg officials said.

The X37-B is 29 feet long and boasts a wingspan of 14 feet.

This is the second spaceflight for the X-37B. The inaugural mini space shuttle first launched in 2010 and that mission lasted 224 days in orbit. The second vehicle topped its sibling by spending 468 days in orbit by the time it landed in June 2012.

As of Friday, the third X-37B mission had spent a record-setting 663 days in orbit.

The X-37B falls under the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, which will only say the vehicle supports space experimentation, risk reduction, and concept of operations development for long duration and reusable space vehicle technologies.

The Air Force plans to be able to use NASA facilities in Florida for the X-37B program, and include Kennedy Space Center as a landing site, beginning with the fourth mission, officials said.

Kennedy Space Center officials announced recently that they had entered into an agreement with the Air Force’s X-37B program for use of the orbiter processing facility hangars to process the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle for launch.

The bays were last used during NASA’s space shuttle program, but no longer needs the facilities.

In addition to prepping the vehicle for launch, the X-37B program conducted testing at Kennedy’s shuttle landing facility to demonstrate that landing the vehicle at the former shuttle runway is a technically feasible option, NASA officials said.

Boeing Co. is performing construction upgrades in the former shuttle facilities on behalf of the X-37B program. These upgrades are expected to be complete in December.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >