The robotic X-37B space plane, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, will land at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where Air Force officials are gearing up for its return. As of today (Oct. 12), the X-37B mini-shuttle has been in orbit since December 2012 and racked up a record-shattering 671 days in space.
"Team Vandenberg stands ready to implement safe landing operations for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, the third time for this unique mission" said Col. Keith Baits, 30th Space Wing commander, in a statement on Friday (Oct. 10). [See photos from the X-37B mission]
The X-37B landing could occur on Tuesday (Oct. 14), according to several press reports, including Reuters. The spacecraft is designed to fly itself autonomously during landings.
The Air Force has two X-37B space planes in its fleet and has been flying them on secret missions since 2010. But the exact purpose of those flights have been shrouded in secrecy. The mission in orbit now, called Orbital Test Vehicle 3 (OTV-3), launched on Dec. 11, 2012 aboard an Atlas 5 rocket.