Speed Reads

The stars and stripes... in space!

The U.S. Air Force's mysterious X-37B space drone is landing this week, after two years in orbit

If the weather cooperates, the Air Force's robotic X-37B unmanned space plane will land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday, following 22 months in orbit. What the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, made by Boeing and resembling a miniature space shuttle, was doing in space is classified, as is why the Air Force has a space drone in the first place — though there has been lots of speculation.

This is the third X-37B mission, and the longest by far: 662 days as of Monday, according to Space.com. Its first mission, using the same spacecraft and starting in 2010, lasted 225 days; its second mission, using a second craft, lasted 469 days. For what it's worth, Boeing says the Orbital Test Vehicle is meant to "explore reusable vehicle technologies in support of long-term space objectives," including "space experimentation, risk reduction, and concept of operations development," plus hopefully "making space access more routine, affordable, and responsive."

From here on out, the Air Force plans on relocating the X-37B program to Florida's Kennedy Space Center.