MERRITT ISLAND, Florida. – After spending nearly two and a half years in orbit, the Boeing-built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle returned to Earth early Saturday, landing at Kennedy Space Center.
Central Florida’s social media erupted somewhat that morning with reports of loud booms. Although most simply asked what the sounds were, many users offered clues such as a planned nighttime closure of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to explain why space needed to be made and conservation prioritized. safety for the machine to land.
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News 6 reached out to the wildlife refuge for confirmation that its closure was tied to the end of the 908-day OTV-6 mission. A staff member said he wasn’t allowed to know what was going on as the shelter was closed, instead referring us to NASA. According to the staff member, the area reopened at sunrise.
Surveillance video, as in the example below, captured the sound that shook the area:
The speculative social media posts started popping up after 5 a.m. Saturday.
As seen in the video above, the noise itself appears to have occurred at 5:17 a.m., and according to Boeing, the X-37B officially landed at 5:22 a.m.
Pending an official update and landing time, after going through several sonic boom reports they seem to center around 05:17 local time (10:17 UTC) only from memory the sonic boom landing on the shuttle had like a 4 or 5 minute delta so landing time in ball park 05:23? https://t.co/siVkh3hXQ7
—DutchSpace (@DutchSpace) November 12, 2022
The X-37B, affectionately nicknamed “secret spaceplane” and “mini-shuttle” due to its small footprint, shuttle-like appearance and classified mission details, launched in May 2020 from Cape Canaveral. The craft is mounted on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket when the US Space Force was still in its infancy.
What we do know is that the X-37B is meant to be an experimental test platform.
Randy Walden, director and program manager of the Air Force’s Office of Rapid Capabilities, described the experimental aspect in 2020.
“This sixth mission is an important milestone for the X-37B program,” Walden said. “This will be the first X-37B mission to use a service module to host experiments. Incorporating a service module into this mission allows us to continue to expand the spacecraft’s capabilities and accommodate more experiments than any of the previous missions.
A statement from the US Space Force furthered the experiments on board.
Although the timing of the noise in the video above is just minutes away from what Boeing has confirmed, News 6 is working to get a definitive statement from the US Space Force as to whether the landing caused the booms you may have heard. This story will be updated to reflect what comes back to us.
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