US Air Force Space Command is preparing to receive the Boeing X-37B when it descends from a year-long orbit as early as this weekend to land at Vandenberg AFB, California.

"While the exact landing date and time will depend on technical and weather considerations, it is expected to occur during the early- to mid-June timeframe," says USAF. The landing will mark roughly 15 months in orbit for the vehicle, which was designed for 270-day flights.

The landing will mark the end of the second X-37 flight. The first flight was launched in April, 2010, and recovered to Vandenberg that December. The spacecraft will remain at Vandenberg for post-flight checks and refurbishment.

"The next flight (re-flight of OTV-1) is on track for this fall, but the exact date is still awaiting wing level approval as part of the normal scheduling process," says Spacecom.

While its mission remains classified, Spacecom officials have publically praised the spacecraft's performance in orbit. The spacecraft itself is considered experimental, hence the X-designation. The craft has a payload bay carrying classified equipment, which has been the subject of feverish speculation.

The project was originally run by NASA, but it was cut for budgetary reasons. Soon afterwards the project was reactivated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and turned over to the USAF.

 Boeing X-37B

Source: Flight International