Sonic boom rips through Florida as Space Force plane X-37B returns

Sonic boom rips through Florida as Space Force plane X-37B returns

It was just after 5 a.m. when her house was rumbling. Her chickens screeched. Her cats scattered. Her dogs hid under the covers. And Nancy Planeta sat up in bed and wondered: What was that sound?

People across Florida were awakened early Saturday morning to the sound of the X-37B returning to Earth after a record-breaking 908 days in orbit.

There were widespread reports of a sonic boom, from Titusville to Tampa, when the U.S. Space Force’s autonomous vehicle landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County at 5:22 a.m.

Planeta, who is 52 and lives in northern Pasco County, scoured Facebook and local news sites for answers in an early morning mist. Pick up a garbage container? Gunshots? Practicing at MacDill? Her father worked in the Air Force, she said, so once she recovered from the initial shock, she recognized the bang as sonic. Her animals took longer to collect themselves.

“They’re used to calming rural life,” she said Sunday morning.

In a statement, Boeing, which built the X-37B, said the craft has now flown more than 1.3 billion miles and spent 3,774 days in space while conducting experiments for the government and its partners.

One experiment, in collaboration with the US Naval Research Laboratory, involved converting solar energy into microwave energy. Another focused on testing the durability of certain materials exposed to space conditions to ultimately improve the precision of space-environment models.

“This mission highlights the Space Force’s focus on collaborating in space exploration and expanding low-cost access to space for our partners, inside and outside the Department of the Air Force,” said Chance Saltzman, general of the US Space Force and Chief of Space Operations. a statement.

The X-37B was developed by NASA as a test bed for future spacecraft. Today, it is jointly operated by the Space Force and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. The US Space Force is said to own two X-37B vehicles, measuring 29 feet from nose to tail and falling somewhere between a pickup truck and a school bus in length.

The X-37B was 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.

The sixth mission was four months longer than all previous X-37B flights.

“This return further underscores the capabilities of Space Florida’s launch and landing facility that are ideal for both Department of Defense and commercial missions,” said Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida, the space finance and development authority for the United States. state, in a statement.

In Bithlo, located in Orange County, about 31 miles west of the Kennedy Space Center, Carlos and Johana Alfonso captured the bang on their doorbell camera.

“The walls were shaking, the glass was shaking, the whole house was shaking,” says Johana, 55.

They ventured outside after being awakened and said there was a strange sulfur-smelling mist in the air.

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On the Gulf Coast, Peter Anderson also woke up to the strange noise rumbling through the still dark sky.

“Did I imagine it?” the 37-year-old Sarasota resident recalled thinking.

Unable to fall back asleep, he said he pulled out his phone, opened Twitter and scrolled through online chatter about the X-37B. He loosely follows developments in space, so 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 knew about these things,” he said.

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