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X–37B spaceplane team wins CollierX–37B spaceplane team wins Collier

The team behind “the world’s only reusable, autonomous spaceplane” has been named the winner of the 2019 Robert J. Collier Trophy.

The U.S. Air Force-Boeing team behind the X-37B spaceplane won the 2019 Robert J. Collier Trophy. Here, the X-37B is seen landing on June 16, 2012. Photo courtesy of the National Aeronautic Association.

The U.S. Air Force contracted with Boeing to develop the X–37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) “to demonstrate technologies for a reliable reusable, unmanned space test platform” and to conduct “experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth,” according to the Air Force.

Since 2010, the X–37B has completed five missions and spent 2,865 days orbiting Earth; a sixth mission is underway with an OTV that was launched in May, the Air Force said. The X–37B has been launched by the United Launch Alliance Atlas V and SpaceX Falcon 9, and is controlled from the ground for reentry and landing. Solar cells with lithium-ion batteries power the craft, which measures 9 feet, 6 inches tall and 29 feet, 3 inches long with a 14-foot, 11-inch wingspan.

U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John "Jay" Raymond said that the win “exemplifies the kind of lean, agile and innovative technological development our nation needs to secure its interests.

“The ability to test new systems in space and return them to Earth is unique to the X–37B and enables the U.S. to more efficiently and effectively develop spacepower to maintain superiority in the space domain."

The X–37B tests programs such as “advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformable reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems,” and more for 270 days or more at a time in low-Earth orbit, according to an Air Force fact sheet.

“The extraordinary men and women who make up our government-industry team now take their place alongside the Collier Trophy legends who preceded them,” said Boeing Defense, Space and Security CEO Leanne Caret in a news release. “They have made a lasting impact on aerospace development for the past decade and will influence future generations of space systems to come.”

The National Aeronautic Association’s Collier Trophy Selection Committee of 35 aerospace and aviation professionals named the X–37B team as the winner from among nine nominations on August 11; a date to present the trophy has not been announced. 

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
Topics: Technology, Awards and Records

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