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Because of sudden Air Force preparations of the old space shuttle runway at Cape Canaveral it is now believed that the X-37B spacecraft presently in orbit for the past 21 months is about to come home.
The spacecraft has not yet landed, but recent orbital changes spotted by amateurs as well as runway preparations at the Cape all point to an end to the mission.
In preparation for landing at Kennedy, teams practiced landing drills and post-landing safing operations as well as emergency drills at the SLF [Shuttle Landing Facility] last week.
The X-37B landing also helps explain the until now curious delay to SpaceX’s launch of the SpX-10 resupply mission for the International Space Station which had originally been scheduled for the 14th as well – the opening day of the X-37B’s landing attempts at Kennedy. When the SpaceX mission was delayed, it was stated that range assets necessary for the return to launch site landing of the Falcon 9 core stage were not available from 14-17 February, while all other range assets necessary for launch were available during that window.
While the secretive nature of the mission precludes any exact knowledge of the ground track the X-37B will take, a descending node reentry over large portions of the United States is the likely option given the landing window for the restricted air space in and around the Kennedy Space Center.
If the X-37B lands this week, it will have completed the fourth such mission from the Air Force’s known fleet of two spacecraft. One did flights 1 and 3, while the other did flights 2 and 4.