By Titus Ledbetter III
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has started preparing for the landing of its second unmanned X-37B space plane, which is expected to return in early to mid-June after more than a year on orbit, the service said in a press release May 30.
The exact date and time of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-2 (OTV-2) landing will depend on technical and weather considerations, according to the press release. OTV-2, which can maneuver in space and land horizontally like an airplane, was launched in March 2011 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.
The Air Force’s 30th Space Wing will monitor the deorbit and landing of OTV-2. Officials from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., have conducted periodic training sessions in preparation for landing, according to the press release.
“The men and women of Team Vandenberg are ready to execute safe landing operations anytime and at a moment’s notice,” Col. Nina Armagno, commander of the 30th Space Wing, said in a prepared statement.
OTV-2, built by Boeing Phantom Works of El Segundo, Calif., resembles a miniature space shuttle, with a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed and a deployable solar array. The space plane’s classified mission is being conducted by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.
The first X-37B vehicle, OTV-1, landed at Vandenberg in December 2010 after 225 days in orbit. The Air Force plans to send that vehicle back into space in October, also aboard an Atlas 5.