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NASA’s new space plane prepares to come back to Earth

An artist's rendition, from Nasa, of the X-37B as it might look orbiting Earth.

It looks like a miniature space shuttle, complete with solar panels for power and a cargo bay to carry satellites or scientific experiments into orbit. But unlike the venerable Discovery, Endeavour or Atlantis, the US Air Force’s X-37B space plane comes without one crucial element: human astronauts.

The space plane has been circling the Earth for the past nine months and will land some time this week at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Officially known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, it has been flying as a technology testbed for the next generation of space vehicles.

More info here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/dec/01/space-vehicle-earth

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