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Secret US Space Plane Set to Land in California After 22 Months

Image: Secret US Space Plane Set to Land in California After 22 Months
In this December 11, 2012 file photo, a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carrying the U.S. military's X-37B experimental space plane lifts off from launch complex 41 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Scott Audette/Reuters/Landov)  

By    |   Tuesday, 14 Oct 2014 06:26 PM

It’s the stuff of Tom Clancy novels: An X-37B secret US space plane is heading back to Earth. For two years, the public has been kept in the dark about the mission of the unmanned, reusable aircraft, which is expected to land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Vandenburg officials posted a news release online about the pending landing of the space plane
, saying the exact time will depend on "technical and weather considerations."
A separate FAA notice indicated that airspace around the south California base would be closed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Wednesday.

Since the secret X-37B launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Dec. 11, 2012, Vandenberg crews have conducted extensive, periodic training in preparation for landing.

"Team Vandenberg stands ready to implement safe landing operations for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, the third time for this unique mission," Col. Keith Baits, 30th Space Wing commander, said in a statement.

The Air Force has two X-37B space planes in its fleet and has been flying them on secret missions since 2010, according to CBS.

The 5.5-ton, X-37B shuttle looks like a small space shuttle with a small payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed. The aircraft is about 29 feet long and 9.5 feet high with a wingspan of just under 15 feet. A solar array onboard generates power, enabling the spacecraft to stay in orbit for months.

At the time of its launch, the Air Force said the X-37B’s mission would last about nine months. As the mission stretched to 22 months, speculation about possible spying activities or weapons testing increased. Previous missions lasted 225 and 469 days, according to the Air Force.

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It’s the stuff of Tom Clancy novels: An X-37B secret US space plane is heading back to Earth. For two years, the public has been kept in the dark about the mission of the unmanned, reusable aircraft, which is expected to land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
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2014-26-14
Tuesday, 14 Oct 2014 06:26 PM
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