Mysterious space plane stays in orbit for 908 days before returning to Earth

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle sits on the runway during post-landing operations Dec. 3, 2010, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Technicians in self-contained atmospheric protective ensemble suits conducted initial checks on the vehicle and to ensure the area was safe. (U.S. Air Force photo/Michael Stonecypher) (Photo by DoD/Corbis via Getty Images)
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle sits on the runway during post-landing operations in 2010. (US Air Force/Michael Stonecypher/DoD/Corbis via Getty Images)

A mysterious robotic 'spaceplane' stayed in orbit for 908 days – more than two years – before finally landing on Saturday.

The Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) landed at Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The flight surpassed the OTV's previous record of 780 days in orbit.

The X-37B first went into space in 2010 and has completed six missions.

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It can carry cargo loads into space and return them to engineers on Earth.

The aircraft has a wingspan of less than 15ft and is taken into space on a rocket, but glides back to Earth like a space shuttle.

With the successful completion of its sixth mission, the reusable spaceplane has now flown over 1.3 billion miles and spent a total of 10 years in space.

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Boeing said it conducts experiments for government and industry partners with the ability to return them to Earth for evaluation.

"This mission highlights the Space Force's focus on collaboration in space exploration and expanding low-cost access to space for our partners, within and outside of the Department of the Air Force (DAF),” said General Chance Saltzman, chief of space operations at US Space Force.

The sixth mission was launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in May 2020.

Hosted experiments included a solar energy test designed by the Naval Research Lab, as well as a satellite designed and built by cadets at the US Air Force Academy in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6) launches from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 17, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The USSF-7 mission for the U.S. Space Force is the sixth flight of the OTV-6 space plane, an unmanned spacecraft which resembles a miniature version of NASA's retired space shuttle. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
An Atlas V rocket carrying the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle launches in 2020. (Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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The satellite, dubbed FalconSat-8, was successfully deployed in October 2021 and remains in orbit.

This mission also hosted multiple Nasa experiments including the Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS-2), which evaluated the effects of space exposure on various materials to validate and improve the precision of space environment models. It was the second flight for this type of experiment. Mission 6 also hosted a Nasa experiment to evaluate the effects of long-duration space exposure on seeds.

Jim Chilton, senior vice president at Boeing Space and Launch, said: "Since the X-37B's first launch in 2010, it has shattered records and provided our nation with an unrivalled capability to rapidly test and integrate new space technologies.

"With the service module added, this was the most we've ever carried to orbit on the X-37B and we're proud to have been able to prove out this new and flexible capability for the government and its industry partners."