Air Force's X-37B space plane sets 718-day flight record

While companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are battling it out in the reusable rocket arena, the US Air Force is looking to space in a slightly different way. Just this weekend, the Air Force proudly announced that its unmanned orbital space plane, the X-37B, set two records. First, it had the longest unmanned orbital flight for the craft, circling the globe for 718 days. Second, it landed without a scratch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the first landing at that facility in over half a decade.

Let's get the conspiracy theories out of the way. The X-37B flights, of which there are now four, have always been secret missions. This, of course, has "inspired" some to speculate that the space craft is a weaponized, or at least anti-weapon, UAV of some sort. The Air Force naturally denies this, insisting that the flights are simply testing out technologies for creating more of such aircraft. While some "outside experts" do more or less agree, they don't discount the possibility of the Air Force using those flights to also test technologies for reconnaissance.

This is the X-37B's fourth mission and each one is longer than the previous one. OTV-1, short for Orbital Test Vehicle, took place in 2010 and lasted only 224 days. OTV-2 launched shortly in 2011, spending 468 days in space. Although OTV-3 launched in 2012, it won't be until late 2014 before it would come home, spending 674 days, just a month or so short of 2 years. This OTV-4 mission launched May 20, 2015, also missing the two-year mark by a few days.

Reusable spacecraft has been a major focus of many space-faring companies and programs, US military included. In addition,being able to land on, refurbish, and launch from the same location enhances the prospect of advancing the country's space programs. Ironically, though, such programs are being threatened to be put in the back burner under the new government.