Post-landing of OTV-5 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility.
Courtesy Photo 45th Space Wing Public Affairs

The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) has announced that the United States Department of the Air Force – Boeing X-37B team has been named as the recipient of the 2019 Robert J. Collier Trophy.

The Collier Trophy is awarded annually for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.

X-37B readied for 6th mission of the space plane program.
Credit: Boeing

The space plane has logged more than 2,865 days in orbit across five Earth-orbiting missions.

Current mission

Launched on an Atlas-V booster, an Earth-circling X-37B spaceplane is now carrying out the program’s sixth mission. The craft, also designated Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6), was lofted on May 17, 2020.

Credit: Boeing

“The X-37B team win…exemplifies the kind of lean, agile and innovative technological development our nation needs to secure its interests,” said U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond. “The ability to test new systems in space and return them to Earth is unique to the X-37B and enables the U.S. to more efficiently and effectively develop spacepower to maintain superiority in the space domain.”

Autonomous, reusable

NAA Chairman Jim Albaugh stated in an NAA press statement: “The X-37B team should be commended for their accomplishments over the last decade and more importantly for what they accomplished in 2019.”

As the world’s only autonomous, reusable spaceplane, Albaugh added, “it continues to contribute to our understanding of both space and air flight.”

Technicians tend Air Force X-37B space plane after tarmac touchdown.
Credit: U.S. Air Force

Record setting 

Here’s a roster of the milestone-setting missions as told to Inside Outer Space by Major Will Russell, U.S. Space Force spokesperson.

OTV-1 launched on April 22, 2010 and landed on December 3, 2010, spending over 224 days on orbit.

OTV-2 launched on March 5, 2011 and landed on June 16, 2012, spending over 468 days on orbit.

OTV-3 launched on December 11, 2012 and landed on October 17, 2014, spending over 674 days on-orbit.

OTV-4 launched on May 20, 2015 and landed on May 7, 2015, spending nearly 718 days on-orbit.

OTV-5 launched on September 7, 2017 and landed on October 27, 2019, spending nearly 780 days on-orbit.

The first four missions launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida thanks to an an Atlas-V booster. The fifth mission launched from Kennedy Space Center on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher.

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