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Secretive military spaceplane lands in Florida after record-long orbital flight

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Mission 5 of the Air Force Orbital X-37B Test Vehicle is seen after landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility, Florida, USA, October 27, 2019. US Air Force / REUTERS Disclosure

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon's secret space plane X-37B landed in Florida on Sunday after a record-spanning orbital flight of more than two years, the US Air Force said, limiting the latest test mission to a variety of military technologies.

The unmanned X-37B, built by Boeing Co., landed on a runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 3:51 am, after spending 780 days orbiting Earth as the fifth Air Force flight mission. under the Orbital Test Vehicle program, the Air Force said.

The spacecraft, about the size of a small bus and sharing many design features with NASA's Space Shuttle, was orbited in 2017 on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, embarking on a mission managed by the Fast Capabilities Office of NASA. Washington Air Force to conduct various classified technology experiments in a long-lasting space environment.

"The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable space plane," Barbara Barrett, the newly appointed Air Force secretary, said in a statement. "Each successive mission enhances our nation's space capabilities."

The previous X-37B mission lasted 718 days and landed in 2017. Sunday morning landing records 2,865 days in total, the Air Force said.

The Pentagon, increasingly relying on space technologies, recently created the US Space Command and is asking Congress to approve funding for a proposed Space Force that would serve as a new branch of the military.

"The sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the US Space Force," said Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff.

Joey Rouelette report in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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