Secret space plane returns to Earth after almost 2 years in orbit

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The U.S. Air Force’s top secret X-37B Space Plane made a not-so-secret return to Earth this morning, landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California after an impressive 674 days in orbit. Of course, the closely held secret of the X-37B Space Plane – which looks like a miniature version of one of NASA’s Space Shuttles, and carries no crew – isn’t that it was in orbit, but what it was doing up there.

An unpiloted Air Force space plane glided back to Earth Friday after a record 674-day stay in orbit, closing out a clandestine military mission with a computer-controlled landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Boeing-built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, wrapping up its second long-duration mission and the secretive program’s third flight overall, touched down at 12:24 p.m. EDT (GMT-4; 9:24 a.m. local time), rolling to a stop a few moments later. Other than a brief Air Force statement last Friday announcing landing preparations at Vandenberg, there was no advance warning of the space plane’s re-entry and, in keeping with the secrecy surrounding the program, no details on what the spacecraft might have been doing during its nearly two years aloft.

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