US space plane spends record 718 days in orbit
A secretive US space plane has reportedly set a new record for consecutive time in orbit after spending almost two years on its current mission.
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle has now spent a 718th day in space, overtaking the 717-day mark set by the same type of vehicle on a previous mission.
CNN, ABC News and Air Force Times were among the US publications to hail the achievement as a record for time in orbit for a space vehicle.
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The plane’s mission continues and no return date to Earth has been announced. A US Air Force spokesman did not comment on whether a world record had been achieved.
Little is known about what the X-37B is doing in space, and US Air Force has not shared the location of the plane while it is in orbit.
The US Air Force’s website says the X-37B tests “reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space” and carries out experiments “which can be returned to and examined on Earth”.
The secrecy has led to speculation that the plane could somehow be involved in spying activities or testing space weapons.
The current X-37B plane in orbit, called OTV-5, was launched in September 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was built by Boeing.
The plane’s unique design looks like a miniature space shuttle – it is just nine metres long and three metres wide.
Heather Wilson, the former Air Force Secretary, suggested in July that the X-37B is able to modify its orbit, frustrating adversaries in the process.
“We know that drives them nuts. And I’m really glad about that,” Ms Wilson said at the Aspen Security Forum, according to Air Force Times.
Mr Trump has put renewed focus on space exploration and expansion, promising to create a so-called ‘Space Force’ as the sixth branch of America’s military.
Mike Pence, the US vice president, has been put in charge of progressing the plans and gave a speech last August outlining the Trump administration’s vision.
Mr Pence said then: "Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation.”