Posted : 2012-06-19 17:20
Updated : 2012-06-19 17:20

Unmanned Air Force space plane lands in California

An unmanned Air Force space plane steered itself to a landing early Saturday at a California military base, capping a 15-month clandestine mission.

The spacecraft, which was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in March 2011, conducted in-orbit experiments during the mission, officials said. It was the second such autonomous landing at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, 130 miles (209 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles. In 2010, an identical unmanned spacecraft returned to Earth after seven months and 91 million miles (146 million kilometers) in orbit.

The latest homecoming was set in motion when the stubby-winged robotic X-37B fired its engine to slip out of orbit, then pierced through the atmosphere and glided down the runway like an airplane.

``With the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, the X-37B OTV program brings a singular capability to space technology development,'' said Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, the X-37B's program manager. ``The return capability allows the Air Force to test new technologies without the same risk commitment faced by other programs. We're proud of the entire team's successful efforts to bring this mission to an outstanding conclusion.''

With the second X-37B on the ground, the Air Force planned to launch the first one again later this year. An exact date has not been set.

The twin X-37B vehicles are part of a military program testing robotically controlled reusable spacecraft technologies. Though the Air Force has emphasized the goal is to test the space plane itself, there's a classified payload on board ― a detail that has led to much speculation about the mission's ultimate purpose.

Some amateur trackers think the craft carried an experimental spy satellite sensor judging by its low orbit and inclination, suggesting reconnaissance or intelligence gathering rather than communications.

Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who runs Jonathan's Space Report, which tracks the world's space launches and satellites, said it's possible it was testing some form of new imaging. (AP)
관련 한글 기사

‘극비 임무’ 美 X-37B 우주왕복선 정체는?

그동안 존재 사실만 알려진 채 수행임무 일체가 베일에 가려져 있었던 미국의 무인 우주왕복선 X-37B가 캘리포니아의 반덴버그 미 공군기지로 귀환하는 모습의 동영상이 공개됐다고 나우뉴스가 외신을 인용 보도했다.

우주과학전문매체인 스페이스닷컴이 공개한 이 동영상은 캘리포니아 현지 시간으로 지난 16일(현지시간) 오전 5시 48분에 촬영된 것으로, X-37B가 미끄러지듯 지상에 내려앉는 모습을 담고 있다.

이 우주왕복선은 미국 보잉사의 방위사업본부가 제작했으며, 당초 비행 예정 시간인 270일을 훌쩍 넘긴 469일 동안 우주에 머물다 귀환했다고 보도는 전했다.

원격조종되는 X-37B는 우주에서 비행선으로, 지구 대기층에서 일반 비행기로 활용할 수 있으며 비교적 큰 규모의 화물적하 공간을 갖추고 있어 다양한 장비를 탑재할 수 있다.

지난 해 3월 플로리다주의 케이프커내버럴 공군기지서 발사된 것으로 알려져 있지만, 정확히 무엇을 탑재하고 지구를 떠났으며, 우주에서 어떤 임무를 수행했는지에 대해서는 여전히 베일에 가려져 있다.

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