A Supersecret Spacecraft Comes Back to Earth After Two Years

The U.S. Air Force has kept an unmanned space shuttle in orbit for the past two years, and it seems no one without security clearance knows what it’s been doing up there.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, which can enter orbit and land without human intervention, is scheduled to touch down this week—the best guess is sometime on Tuesday—at Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara, Calif. The landing will mark completion of the program’s third and longest mission, which was launched on Dec. 11, 2012. The Air Force has two such spacecraft for these low-earth orbit missions, all of which are classified, as are the precise launch and landing times.

“The mission is basically top secret,” says Captain Chris Hoyler, an Air Force spokesman. The X-37B program came from technologies developed by Boeing (BA), NASA, the Air Force, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa).

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