The Air Force is extending the mission of an experimental robotic space plane that's been circling the Earth for nine months.
The pilotless X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, which looks like a miniature version of the space shuttle, was launched in March from Cape Canaveral, Fla. At the time, Air Force officials offered few details about the mission, saying that the space plane simply provided a way to test new technologies in space, such as satellite sensors and other components.
The military did confirm that the 29-foot space plane was slated to land 270 days later, which would be Wednesday, on a 15,000-foot airstrip at Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara. Now the Air Force has announced that the mission has been extended, but the exact landing date has not yet been set.
"We initially planned for a nine-month mission, which we are roughly at now, but we will continue to extend the mission as circumstances allow," Lt. Col Tom McIntyre, the spacecraft's systems program director, said in a statement. "Keeping the X-37 in orbit will provide us with additional experimentation opportunities and allow us to extract the maximum value out of the mission."