Like all good spooks, the U.S. Air Force's X-37 orbital spaceplane came in from the cold—in the middle of the night, of course—on December 3 after a seven-month inaugural orbital test flight. It's shown here at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, its primary landing spot, shortly after touchdown. It blew its left tire during the landing, possibly due to debris on the runway, according to Richard W. McKinney, a deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for space programs. McKinney gave reporters the Air Force's first briefing on the mission this afternoon at the Pentagon. Other than the blown tire, which the Air Force is still investigating, the first flight was deemed a success.
McKinney insisted that the X-37 is strictly a test platform for an unmanned, reusable spaceplane, but declined to address questions about its payload or the program's cost—both are classified.
Here's all we know about the X-37. Look for an update in the next issue of Air & Space Magazine.
And here's the only video released so far by the Air Force: