Florida neighbors were alarmed by a sonic boom after a secret, unmanned US Space Force X-37B ship landed early on Saturday after a record-breaking 908 days in orbit.
After launching in May 2020 on its sixth mission, the solar-powered craft—which resembles a small space shuttle—landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at roughly 5.15 am on Saturday. Its prior mission took 780 days to complete.
When the spacecraft unexpectedly returned to earth, some Central Floridians feared for their lives as a loud sonic boom resounded in the early morning hours and houses shook. According to Fox 29, the explosion could be heard from Titusville to Kissimmee.
Sonic Booms Heard Across Florida
“Woke me up, thought something hit the house, Facebook and Twitter seem to confirm it was what I thought, sonic boom looks plausible,” posted Robert Haas on Twitter.
Another person posted a US Fish and Wildlife Services alert notifying people that Merritt Island will be closed due to “operations NASA.” The Space Force later acknowledged that the spacecraft had safely deorbited at 5:22 a.m. (EST).
For the first time, the spaceship carried experiments for the US Air Force Academy, the Naval Research Laboratory, and other institutions while traveling for nearly three years. To guarantee a safe landing, the module disengaged from the spacecraft before de-orbiting.
The FalconSat-8 satellite, which was created by academy cadets in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory, was one of the experiments. It is still in orbit after being deployed in October 2021.
Another experiment examined how long-term space exposure affected seedlings. According to Space Force, the experiment conducted by the Naval Research
Laboratory “effectively captured sun rays outside of Earth’s atmosphere and attempted to convey electricity to the ground in the form of radio frequency microwave radiation.”
Lithium-ion batteries and solar cells power the ship, which was orbiting at a height of around 200 miles.
US Space Force X-37B Missions
The first mission began in 2010 and ran for 224 days; the second continued for 468 days; and the last mission, which concluded in 2019, ran for a total of 780 days.
The X-37Be has already traveled more than 1.3 billion miles and spent 3,774 days in orbit. Usually, the Air Force keeps its spacecraft’s equipment in orbit very close to its heart, but it made an exception for its most recent trip.
The military organization revealed some information on the craft’s 2019 mission. The team saw that the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory was mounted on the X-37B.
The three main scientific goals of the payload are to examine the initial on-orbit thermal performance, the long-duration thermal performance, and any lifespan decline.
United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets have been used to launch five prior X-37B missions. On lengthy missions in Earth orbit, the unmanned spacecraft has carried an unknown payload each time, according to Daily Mail.