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Thu, Nov 17, 2022

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Completes Mission Number 6

US Space Force Sees Success for Space Drone Experimentation

The Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6, or OTV-6, successfully deorbited and landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility earlier this week, marking the 6th successful flight for the uncrewed, reusable spaceplane.

The mission was the first to include an attached service module, a modular, expandable system that will eventually add a range of capabilities to the X-37B should it enter service in earnest. The success bodes well for the program, showing that the test vehicle could successfully detach from the module prior to landing. The unit cannot remain onboard the X-37B during the landing process, requiring separate disposal in accordance with Space Force procedures.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall assures that the module will be taken care of. “The deliberate manner in which we conduct on­-orbit operations -to include the service module disposal— speaks to the United States' commitment to safe and responsible space practices, particularly as the issue of growing orbital debris threatens to impact global space operations.”

The attached module carried some experimental equipment from the Naval Research Laboratory, namely their Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module, during its brief jaunt in space. That experiment successfully harnessed solar rays outside of Earth's atmosphere and aimed to transmit power to the ground in the form of radio frequency microwave energy. Additional NASA experiments were also along for the ride, testing the outcome of long-term exposure on seeds and new materials for future missions. The METIS-2 project will help to evaluate thermal control coatings, printed electronic materials, and new radiation shielding materials. The 6th mission conducted on-orbit experiments for 908 days in total. 

“The X-37B continues to push the boundaries of experimentation, enabled by an elite government and industry team behind the scenes,” said Joseph Fritschen, DAF Rapid Capabilities Office’s X-37B program director. “The ability to conduct on-orbit experiments and bring them home safely for in-depth analysis on the ground has proven valuable for the Department of the Air Force and scientific community. The addition of the service module on OTV-6 allowed us to host more experiments than ever before.”

“This mission highlights the Space Force's focus on collaboration in space exploration and expanding low-cost access to space for our partners, within and outside of the Department of the Air Force,” said Chief of Space Operations General B. Chance Saltzman.

FMI: www.af.mil

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