Orlando, Florida. – Florida residents lit up social media on Saturday after hearing the explosions and not knowing what caused them. It turns out that the Boeing X-37B – an autonomous space plane that spent more than 900 days in space on a mission for the US Air Force and the US Space Force – has secretly returned to Earth.
Residents of Jacksonville and as far inland as Orlando heard sonic booms at about 5 a.m. It has been a mystery to many since the return of the X-37B was not announced, leading residents to search for answers online.
One person said on Twitter, “I’m glad to know I wasn’t hacking this morning at 5am here in Orlando, Florida because… dang, what an amazing rumble.”
“I just heard a bang in the Orlando area,” said Matt Collins in Orlando. “The launch date hasn’t been set yet.”
“I heard a triple bang at 5:15 a.m. in Haines, Florida. I thought someone had jumped on my roof!”
Original story: Sonic Boom? I heard a mysterious ‘bang’ around central Florida
“What’s going on in Florida now?” K. Muller tweeted. “Was #HurricaneNicole earlier this week and back in November. Only to wake up at 5:15am to a #SonicBoom apparently caused by a highly rated military spacecraft. What a week.”
The X-37B spaceplane returned to Earth, landing on the old space shuttle runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center shuttle landing facility on November 12, 2022, at 05:22 a.m., completing its sixth mission. And she set a new endurance record after spending 908 days in orbit.
Related: What is a sonic boom?
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 was launched on May 17, 2020, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission – called USSF-7 – involved several NASA test payloads, including an investigation into the effects of long-term space exposure to the seeds. The USSF-7 also included research by the US Naval Research Laboratory and the US Air Force Academy’s FalconSat-8, which are still in orbit. The rest of the spacecraft’s mission was top secret.
The information about the landing of the space plane is also kept confidential. However, there are hints about the early arrival of the X-37B.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge closed early Saturday due to operations at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, including routes to the refuge adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center.
The U.S. Air Force and Space Forces did not immediately confirm the landing, but the best sign of a successful return of the secretive space plane was the thunderous double-sound piercing sound as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, which many in Florida heard on Saturday morning.
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According to Boeing, the X-37B was originally designed to fly for 270 days per mission, but with each flight, the spacecraft set new records for time in orbit.
“The X-37B continues to push the boundaries of experimentation, enabled by elite government and industry team behind the scenes,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Fritchen, X-37B program manager. “The ability to conduct experiments in orbit and bring them home safely for in-depth analysis on the ground has proven invaluable to the Air Force Division and the scientific community. The addition of the service module on the OTV-6 has allowed us to host more experiments than ever before.”
Before the last mission, the space plane was in orbit for 780 days before returning to Earth in October 2019.
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