X-37B Wraps Sixth Successful Mission
November 14, 2022
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6), the U.S. Space Force’s unmanned,
reusable spaceplane, successfully deorbited and landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space
Center Shuttle Landing Facility on Nov. 12, 2022, at 05:22 a.m.
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 Operations.
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 duty.
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 vehicle. 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.
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.”
The sixth mission conducted on-orbit experiments for 908 days.