TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Residents from Sarasota County to the Space Coast may have heard a loud boom early Saturday morning, but don’t worry, the world isn’t falling apart.
The loud noise heard around 5:20 a.m. was likely caused by an unmanned reusable U.S. Space Force spaceplane coming back down to Earth.
According to the Space Force, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 landed at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle at 5:22 a.m.
The spaceplane was used for several in-space experiments, including the Naval Research Laboratory’s Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module. The module was used to use solar rays to transmit power to the ground through radio microwave energy.
Other experiments dealt with thermal control coatings, printed electronic materials, candidate radiation shielding materials, and the effects of space exposure on seeds. The seed experiment will help scientists learn more about potential space crop production for permanently inhabited bases.
“The X-37B continues to push the boundaries of experimentation, enabled by an elite government and industry team behind the scenes,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Fritschen, DAF Rapid Capabilities Office’s X-37B Program Director. “The ability to conduct on-orbit experiments and bring them home safely for in-depth analysis on the ground has proven valuable for the Department of the Air Force and scientific community.
The Space Force said the spacecraft was able to do an expanded number of experiments thanks to a service module-a ring attached to the rear of the test vehicle. The OTV-6 mission was the first to have such a ring when it was launched.
Both the spaceplane and the module separated as planned before landing. The Space Force will now dispose of the module.
“The deliberate manner in which we conduct on-orbit operations —to include the service module disposal — speaks to the United States’ commitment to safe and responsible space practices, particularly as the issue of growing orbital debris threatens to impact global space operations.” Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said,
The OTV-6 mission conducted its experiments for 908 days in space before finally returning to the Sunshine State.