A sonic boom tears through Florida as the Space Force’s X-37B jet returns
It was just after 5am when her house woke up to a crash. Her chickens were clucking. Her cats scattered. Her dogs hid under the covers. And Nancy Planet sat up in bed and wondered: What was that sound?
People in Florida were awakened early Saturday morning by the sound of the X-37B returning to Earth after a record 908 days in orbit.
Reports of a sonic boom were widespread from Titusville to Tampa when the US Space Force’s autonomous vehicle touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County at 5:22 a.m.
Planeta, who is 52 and lives in north Pasco County, scoured Facebook and local news sites for answers in the early morning fog. Dumpster collection? Shots? Exercises at MacDill? Her father was in the Air Force, she said, so after recovering from the initial shock, she quickly recognized the boom as audible. Her animals took longer to gather.
“They are used to a quiet country life,” she said Sunday morning.
In a statement, Boeing, which built the X-37B, said the craft had already flown more than 1.3 billion miles, spending 3,774 days in space while conducting experiments for the government and its partners.
One experiment, in partnership with the US Naval Research Laboratory, involves converting solar energy into microwave energy. Another aimed to test the durability of certain materials exposed to space conditions to ultimately improve the accuracy of models of the space environment.
“This mission underscores the Space Force’s focus on cooperation in space exploration and expanding low-cost access to space for our partners, within and outside the Department of the Air Force,” said U.S. Space Force Gen. and Chief of Space Operations Chance Saltzman in declaration.
The X-37B was developed by NASA as a test platform for future spacecraft. Today, it is jointly operated by the Space Force and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. The US Space Force is believed to have two X-37B vehicles that measure 29 feet nose to tail, somewhere between a pickup truck and a school bus in length.
The X-37B launched into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on May 17, 2020, when Donald Trump was president — about two months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Its sixth mission was four months longer than any previous X-37B flight.
“This return further underscores Space Florida’s launch and landing facility capabilities, which are ideal for both DoD and commercial missions,” Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida, the state’s space agency, said in a statement. aerospace finance and development. .
In Bitlo, located in Orange County about 30 miles west of the Kennedy Space Center, Carlos and Johanna Alfonso captured the boom on their bell camera.
“The walls shook, the glass shook, the whole house shook,” Johanna, 55, said.
They ventured outside after being shaken from sleep and said that there was a strange sulfur-smelling mist hanging in the air.
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On the shores of the Persian Gulf, Peter Anderson also awoke to the strange sound booming in the still dark sky.
“Was I imagining it?” the 37-year-old Sarasota resident recalled thinking.
Unable to go back to sleep, he said he pulled out his phone, opened Twitter and browsed online chatter about the X-37B. He follows space developments loosely, so he had heard of the plane, but had no idea that its nearly 30-month orbit was coming to an end.
“It would be nice if we were informed about these things,” he said.