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X-37B returns from fourth orbital flight, makes first KSC landing.

Concluding a record-breaking stay in space, the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane returned to Earth this morning. The vehicle spent more than 718 in orbit after launching atop an Atlas V rocket on May 20th, 2015. 

Although the X-37′s operations in orbit are classified, at least two of its payloads were confirmed to be an experimental electric propulsion engine and a materials exposure pallet.

The spaceplane performed a completely autonomous landing at Kennedy Space Center’s runway 15 shortly before 8am EDT, the same runway used by the Space Shuttle program. It marked the first time one of the Orbital Test Vehicle spaceplanes landed at Kennedy Space Center.

Following brief servicing on the runway, the vehicle will be towed to one of the former Orbiter Processing Facilities next to the Vehicle Assembly building. The Air Force has converted one of the old shuttle hangars for use by the OTV program to house their spaceplanes.

P/C: USAF

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OTV-4 mission concludes as X-37 returns to Earth.

After nearly two years in space, the U.S. Air Force’s classified space shuttle, the Orbital Test Vehicle X-37B, returned to Earth, landing on Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility runway shortly before 8am EDT. 

Officially known as the AFSPC-5 mission, OTV-4 launched on May 20, 2015, atop an Atlas V rocket. That same rocket also lifted the Planetary Society’s solar sailing cubesat, LightSail-1 into orbit on its own groundbreaking mission. Spending over 717 days in space, the OTV-4 mission is the longest mission thus far of the program’s four flights.

Measuring 29 feet long with a wingspan of 15 feet, the X-37B is a robotic spaceplane with a payload bay ideal for small payloads. While the specific milestones for this flight were classified, at least two of the experiments included the testing of an electric engine and materials exposure pallets.

The first three flights of the OTV program landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, though OTV-4 became the first to land in Florida. By landing at the same spaceport which it left from, OTV operations are expected to streamline and potentially allow for faster times in between missions. One of Kennedy’s three Orbiter Processing Facilities is used by the Air Force to house the two X-37 spaceplanes in between missions.

As seen in the gifs above - taken from video of the vehicle’s landing - the spaceplane glides past a model of another famous space plane, the Space Shuttle. The Inspiration, which once sat outside the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, was moved to the SLF for restoration ahead of a nationwide tour promoting aerospace science and STEM fields.

See our coverage of the AFSPC-5 mission here.

P/C: USAF.

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The evolution of the tail turret of the Boeing B-52 Stratrofortress bomber, from .50 cal to 20mm

After the gulf war if was finally removed and replaced with a stronger ECM suit, as the USAF deemed it obsolete.

Personally, the 20mm version could have been turned into a CIWS against missiles, basically just needing a new radar and fire control system, but alas, weight savings means a lot in aircraft. 

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Photo series #7

This photo series will bring a well known fighter jet, the fifth generation, twin engine, air superiority, stealth fighter, the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor.

Developed from the YF-22, the USAFs ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighter) program winner, the Raptor is one of the most modern fighter jets in the world, although it was primarily designed for air superiority and as a replacement for the F-15, it also has ground attack, eletronic warfare and SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) capabilities.

Because of a series of high costs and lack of missions for it’s intended role, production has ended in 2011 and the last F-22 was delivered in 2012.

The first combat sortie of this fighter jet happened in September 22nd, 2014 when F-22s dropped 1000lb GPS guided bombs on Islamic State targets, in June 2015, it performed the first CAS (Close Air Support) of the aircraft. Although combat sorties are still somewhat slim, the F-22 has had an increase number of missions for ISR ( intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) gathering during it deployment to the Middle East.

Here are some of it’s specifications:

Engines: Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofans with thrust vectoring in the pitch axis (up and down)

Weapons:

 1 x 20mm  M61A2 Vulcan

For AA (Air to Air) missions:

6 x AIM-120 AMRAAM

2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder

For AG (Air to Ground) missions:

2 x 1000lb JDAM or 8 x 250lb GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs

2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder

2 x AIM-120 AMRAAM

It also has 4 under-wing pylons for drop tanks or weapons with a capacity of 5000lb.

Now of all of this is controlled by an AN/APG-77 radar with an AN/AAR-56 Missile Launch Detector, AN/ALR-94 Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and a MJU-39/40 flare countermeasures.

And that’s it for this photo series, don’t forget to like, reblog and follow, there is a new photo series every wednesday and sunday.

If you have any suggestions, contributions or want to send a complete photo series, don’t be shy, send them to me and i’ll upload them!