ORLANDO, Florida. – Florida residents lit up social media on Saturday after hearing the sound of sonic booms and not knowing what caused them. It turns out that Boeing’s X-37B – an autonomous space plane that spent more than 900 days in space on a US Air Force and US Space Force mission – had secretly returned to Earth.
Residents of Jacksonville and as far inland as Orlando heard the sonic booms around 5 a.m. It was a mystery to many since the return of the X-37B was not announced, leading residents to search for answers online.
“Glad to know I wasn’t going to get a break in this morning at 5am here in Orlando, Florida because…damn what a startling rumble that was,” one person tweeted.
Matt Collins in Orlando said, “Just heard a sonic boom in the Orlando area. No launch scheduled at this time.”
“I heard a triple boom at 5:15 in Haines City, FL. I thought someone jumped on my roof!”
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“What’s going on in Florida right now? tweeted K Mueller. “I had #HurricaneNicole earlier this week and by the way it’s November. Only to wake up at 5:15am to a #SonicBoom supposedly caused by a military spacecraft which is super classified. What a week I’ve had .”
The X-37B spaceplane returned to Earth, landing on the former space shuttle runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on November 12, 2022 at 5:22 a.m., completing its sixth mission. It passed a new endurance record after spending 908 days in orbit.
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The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 launched May 17, 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission – called USSF-7 – included several experimental payloads for NASA, including an investigation of the effects of long-duration space exposure to the seeds. USSF-7 also included research for the US Naval Research Laboratory and the US Air Force Academy’s FalconSat-8, which remains in orbit. The rest of the spacecraft’s mission was top secret.
Information about the spaceplane landing is also kept confidential. However, there are hints of the X-37B’s arrival in advance.
The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was closed early Saturday due to operations at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, including roads leading to the nearby Kennedy Space Center refuge.
The US Air Force and Space Force did not immediately confirm the landing, but the best sign of a successful return for the secret spaceplane is the double sonic boom as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, what many in Florida heard on Saturday morning.
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According to Boeing, the X-37B was originally designed to fly 270 days on each mission, but with each flight the spacecraft set new records for time in orbit.
“The X-37B continues to push the boundaries of experimentation, made possible by an elite government and industry team behind the scenes,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Fritschen, X-37B program director. . “The ability to conduct experiments in orbit and bring them safely home for in-depth analysis in the field has proven invaluable to the Department of the Air Force and the scientific community. The addition service module on OTV-6 has allowed us to host more experiences than ever before.”
Prior to the most recent mission, the spaceplane was in orbit for 780 days before returning to Earth in October 2019.
FOX Weather contributed to this report.
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