X-37B: Air Force's secret space plane to get new home at KSC

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), the Air Force's unmanned, reusable space plane, lands at Vandenberg Air Force Base at 5:48 a.m. PST June 16, 2012. OTV-2, which launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on March 5, 2011, conducted on-orbit experiments for 469 days during its mission.


By MARK K. MATTHEWS | Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel | Published: January 3, 2014

WASHINGTON — A spy plane used by the U.S. Air Force is about to get a new home: a garage at Kennedy Space Center that once housed NASA orbiters during the space shuttle era.

The move was announced Friday by Boeing, the Chicago-based company that built the X-37B spy plane and is in charge of repairing the spacecraft whenever it returns to Earth.

Previously, Boeing had refurbished the 29-foot-long spacecraft at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but the company decided to relocate its fix-up shop in Florida, where the vehicle now launches.

In keeping with the secretive nature of the program, Boeing would not release funding or employment details. But any transfer of work to KSC is welcome news to an area that lost thousands of jobs when NASA retired the shuttle in 2011, area leaders said.

"This is a great opportunity to utilize Brevard County's talented workforce in support of our nation's next-generation space vehicle research platform," Brevard County Commission Chairman Mary Bolin Lewis said in a statement.

Little has been learned about the X-37B since the first one launched in 2010, though some details have become public. Built to resemble a miniature space shuttle, the vehicle is capable of staying in orbit longer than a year. Unlike traditional satellites, which don't have much mobility, the X-37B uses a small engine to zip around and can reach orbits as high as 500 miles above Earth.

Boeing has built two of the vehicles. One is in storage and the other is still on a mission that launched in December 2012.

Nor is this the first time that Boeing has taken advantage of old shuttle property for its current operations. In 2011, the company decided to use another shuttle garage, officially known as an orbiter processing facility, for assembly of its commercial manned space capsule.

Personnel in self-contained atmospheric protective ensemble suits conduct initial checks on the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 1 (OTV-1), the U.S. Air Force's first unmanned re-entry spacecraft, after its landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday, Dec. 3, 2010.