The U.S. Air Force's classified robot space plane is headed back to Earth

While everyone from NASA to SpaceX and all the private party spacefarers are jockeying to figure out the next great spaceship, the U.S. Air Force is landing its super-secret space plane that’s been in orbit since 2012.

That’s right, in case you haven’t heard — the U.S. Air Force has a secret, robotic space plane they’ve been flying for two years. What’s it doing? That’s classified. What we do know: The space plane is coming home after 22 months in orbit, and is expected to land within the next few days at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The craft has been in orbit conducting classified experiments, which sounds so ominous that our minds immediately jump to the craziest possible conclusions (aliens, right?), though we have no clue what this thing is actually doing up there. The Air Force states the craft’s mission as testing “reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.” Yes, that is vague.

Regardless, it’s fascinating to think we have a space plane that can operate unmanned and land safely (assuming everything goes smoothly) with nary an issue.

Created by Boeing, the project has been kicking around development since 1999 and got its start at NASA. It was eventually kicked over to the U.S. Department of Defense and landed at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It’s been classified and flying secret missions since 2010.

Most likely scenario: The craft is testing cutting-edge tech that’ll be used in future spacecraft, and for whatever reason they’re keeping it under wraps (or aliens?). Here’s hoping the studies are eventually declassified, because we’re champing at the bit to know what’s up.

(Via Popular Science)

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