CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., 12 Dec. 2012. U.S. Air Force officials, in partnership with aerospace technology firms Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Pratt & Whitney, ATK, and others, returned a reusable, unmanned X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) to orbit. The event marks a first: A single OTV has now been launched into space twice, proving that reusable spacecraft can withstand multiple space launches and missions.
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket launched the Orbital Test Vehicle, also known as the Boeing X-37B, for the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office (AFRCO) on 11 Dec. 2012 at 1:03 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
The X-37B unmanned test platform, combining aircraft and spacecraft design characteristics, supports space experimentation, risk reduction, and concept of operations development for long duration and reusable space vehicle technologies.
"The second mission for OTV-1 demonstrates the vehicle is capable of multiple missions and affordable access to space," says Paul Rusnock, vice president of Boeing Government Space Systems.
OTV-1 was first launched in April 2010 and returned to Earth that December. In fact, it is the United States' first unmanned vehicle to return from space and land on its own; the space shuttle had been the only space vehicle capable of landing on a runway.
A second vehicle, OTV-2, set a record for a reusable space vehicle in June 2012 upon completion of a 469-day mission. Previously, Space Shuttle Discovery held the record with an accumulated total of 365 days in orbit.
Boeing, with its space-based unmanned vehicle technology, also supports the Air Force Research Lab's X-40 program, NASA's X-37 program, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's X-37 Approach, Landing, and Test Vehicle program.