X-37B OTV-6 Successful 908 Day Orbit
by U.S. Space Force Staff Sgt. Adam Shanks
December 3, 2022
The U.S. Space Force’s unmanned, reusable X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV6) successfully
deorbited and landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing
Facility on November 12, 2022 after a mission covering 908 days that
involved on-orbit experiments.
November 12, 2022 - The X-37B orbital test vehicle-6 (OTV6) shortly after landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility from a successful sixth mission covering 908 days. (U.S. Space Force photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Shanks)
OTV-6 was the first
mission to introduce a service module-a ring attached to the rear of
the vehicle expanding the number of experiments that can be hosted
during a mission.
“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 Gen. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space
The service module successfully separated from
the OTV before landing, which is a necessary activity due to the
aerodynamic forces experienced by the X-37B vehicle upon re-entry.
In the coming weeks, the service module will be disposed of in
accordance with best practices.
Secretary of the Air Force Frank
Kendall said, “The deliberate manner in which we conduct onorbit
operations-to include the service module disposal-speaks to the
United States' commitment to safe and responsible space practices,
particularly as the issue of growing orbital debris threatens to
impact global space operations.”
The OTV-6 mission hosted the
Naval Research Laboratory's Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna
Module. This experiment 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.
Additionally, the U.S. Air
Force Academy's FalconSat-8, developed in partnership with Air Force
Research Laboratory, was successfully deployed in October 2021.
FalconSat-8 remains in orbit, providing Academy cadets unique
hands-on experience as space operators prior to entering active
Multiple NASA experiments were deployed on OTV-6. The
Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS-2)
included thermal control coatings, printed electronic materials, and
candidate radiation shielding materials. METIS-1-which flew on
OTV-5-consisted of similar sample plates mounted on the flight
NASA scientists will leverage data collected after the
materials have spent 900+ days in orbit and compare observed effects
to ground simulations, validating and improving the precision of
space environment models.
Another NASA experiment aims to
investigate the effect of long-duration space exposure on seeds.
Scientists are interested in the seeds’ resistance and
susceptibility to space environment-unique stresses, notably
radiation. The seeds experiment will inform space crop production
for future interplanetary missions and the establishment of
permanently inhabited bases in space.
“The X-37B continues to
push the boundaries of experimentation, enabled by an elite
government and industry team behind the scenes,” said Lt. Col.
Joseph Fritschen, DAF Rapid Capabilities Office’s X-37B Program
Director. “The ability to conduct on-orbit experiments and bring
them home safely for in-depth analysis on the ground has proven
valuable for the Department of the Air Force and scientific
community. The addition of the service module on OTV-6 allowed us to
host more experiments than ever before.”
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