Air force officials say that their mysterious mini-space shuttle, known as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, should land this week after having orbited the Earth for more than year. It is supposed to land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as early as Wednesday.
The unmanned re-usable vehicle measures 29 feet in length and has a 15-foot wingspan, making it look like a miniature version of the space shuttles that NASA recently retired from service.
The vehicle went into orbit on March 5, 2011 on a classified mission, just like its first mission in 2010. There is very little known about what the craft is carrying or attempting to accomplish. The secrecy has led many to speculate that the spacecraft is gathering intelligence or testing secret new technologies.
A spokesman for the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg AFB named Jeremy Eggers told ABC News that the spacecraft’s first chance to land will be Wednesday, but it depends on weather and technical conditions. The window for possible landings stretches through June 18, and Eggers says any landing is a “day-by-day situation based on the conditions.”
The initial anouncement about a possible landing for the X-37B was as vague as the rest of the details of it’s mission. An air force statement from May 30 simply said the vehicle would return in the “early- to mid-June time frame.”
The X-37B remained stayed in orbit for 225 days during its first mission in 2010, but it will have nearly doubled that amount of time in orbit when it completes this mission.