Mysterious X-37B spaceplane returns to Earth after staggering long mission

The U.S. military’s mysterious X-37B has returned to Earth following a record-setting 908 days in orbit around the planet, though what it was doing for all that time largely remains a closely guarded secret. The curious unmanned craft reportedly touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center early Friday morning and was preceded by a pair of powerful sonic booms that rattled residents, who were left scratching their heads until the source of the sounds was ultimately revealed. The landing marked the conclusion of the X-37B’s sixth mission, which began when it was launched back in May of 2020.

While details surrounding the X-37B mission are somewhat scant, a U.S. Space Force press release touting the craft’s return gave some insight into some of the work that had been conducted during the 908 days it was orbiting the Earth. They revealed that one experiment aboard the space plane “successfully harnessed solar rays outside of Earth’s atmosphere and aimed to transmit power to the ground in the form of radio frequency microwave energy.” Meanwhile, a NASA study utilizing the craft’s marathon mission length looked at “the effect of long-duration space exposure on seeds.” The space plane’s 908 days in orbit smashed the record previously set by the X-37B fifth mission, which lasted 780 days.

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