- The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is an autonomous spacecraft, about 20 percent of the size of the retired Space Shuttle, that can remain in orbit for extended periods. Over the first three missions, it spent 1,367 days, or nearly four years, in space, 33 days more than the Space Shuttle logged over 135 missions.
- NASA now has some space in the 29-foot-long Air Force drone to carry out the testing—which involves samples about the size of a quarter and extends research that began in 2001—for possible use in future spacecraft.
- Space stresses materials with temperature extremes, debris, micrometeoroids, direct sunlight, and atomic oxygen and can erode many of the paints, polymers, and composites that NASA and private space companies use as protective coatings on their craft. Such research becomes only more critical as the agency contemplates longer, deep-space explorations, such as a mission to Mars in the 2030s.
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