OTV-5 is carrying out a classified mission in low-Earth orbit most likely testing new technologies that could be used for future spacecraft. The secret space plane by the US Air Force, X-37B Spaceplane, also known as Orbital Test Vehicle, has managed to once again break its own record by spending 716 days in the orbit and counting. This is the fifth mission of the X-37B spaceplane and is the longest mission as of yet.
OTV-5 took off from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on 9 July 2017. As per Space.com, the spacecraft is testing the ‘Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader experiment (ASETS-II), which is measuring the performance of electronics and oscillating heat pipes in the space environment.’ However, ASETS-II is most likely not the only mission that is being conducted by OTV-5.
The OTV-5 is 29 feet long and features a seven by four-foot payload bay. This is almost the size of a pickup truck bed and despite the fact that ASETS-II sounds very important; it doesn’t really make sense that it has warranted almost two continuous years in space. The Secure World Foundation is a space policy nonprofit, and it believes that the X-37B is being used as an ‘on-orbit sensor platform and technology testbed.’
The X-37B might very well be conducting tests of tech for the next generation of spy satellites and returning them back to Earth for any tweaking that might be required. Or it might be acting as a spy satellite itself as well. The US Air Force owns two X-37B spaceplanes. They have been built by Boeing and are unmanned spacecraft that can be sent into orbit by using the rocket. They can then glide back to Earth similar to Space Shuttle. Each of the five missions of X-37B, OTV-5 being the latest, have been getting lengthier. The missions started off with 224 days only but have reached 716 days.
Once the OTV-5 returns, it will be landing in California or Florida. The spacecraft generally glides to a landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California or the Kennedy Space Center.