It's almost like having a reusable satellite. Launch, unmanned orbit, land. Rinse. Repeat!

Air Force's X-37B Space Plane Lands in Florida After Record-Breaking Secret Mission
Mike Wall Senior Writer

The record-shattering mission of the U.S. Air Force's robotic X-37B space plane is finally over.

After circling Earth for an unprecedented 718 days, the X-37B touched down Sunday (May 7) at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida — the first landing at the SLF since the final space shuttle mission came back to Earth in July 2011.

"Today marks an incredibly exciting day for the 45th Space Wing as we continue to break barriers," Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the 45th SW commander, said in a statement. "Our team has been preparing for this event for several years, and I am extremely proud to see our hard work and dedication culminate in today's safe and successful landing of the X-37B." [The Mysterious X-37B Space Plane: 6 Surprising Facts]

The just-ended mission, known as OTV-4 (Orbital Test Vehicle-4), was the fourth for the X-37B program. All four launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and the first three landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But Air Force officials have said they want to consolidate X-37B launch and touchdown operations on Florida's Space Coast, so today's landing might be the first of many at the SLF.

"The hard work of the X-37B OTV team and the 45th Space Wing successfully demonstrated the flexibility and resolve necessary to continue the nation's advancement in space," Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said in the same statement. "The ability to land, refurbish, and launch from the same location further enhances the OTV's ability to rapidly integrate and qualify new space technologies.
Story Continues