The US military's mystery space plane rocketed into orbit again today, this time with an extra load of science experiments.
"The X-37B is an uncrewed space plane operated by the U.S. Air Force Rapid Response Capabilities Office". Originally designed for missions of 270 days duration, the X-37B has set endurance records during each of its five previous flights.
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The winged spacecraft resembles NASA's old shuttles, but is considerably smaller at 29 feet long. The aircraft that was launched on Sunday - Operational Test Vehicle 6 - carries several USA military and NASA science experiments. Finally, there is also a test on behalf of U.S. Navy researchers, to examine transforming solar power into radio frequency microwave energy, which could then be transmitted to the ground. The number of experiments could contribute to an extended trip, but it's not clear how much headroom the X-37B has at this stage.
Riding atop an Atlas V rocket, the craft left from Space Launch Complex 41 at 9:14 a.m., following a one-day delay due to bad weather.
ULA's next launch is NASA's Mars 2020 mission carrying the Perseverance rover on an Atlas V rocket. Past test flights have lasted as long as 780 days. In March, he hoisted a national security satellite.
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United Launch Alliance, which provided the Atlas V rocket, declared success 1 1/2 hours after liftoff. ULA dedicated the launch to those affected by COVID-19 as well as first responders and front-line workers.
The Boeing-made X-37B is an unmanned, reusable spacecraft that takes off vertically and lands horizontally on a runway.
"It's a classified mission, and what is classified about it as the details of the vehicle itself, the mission it will do on orbit and where it will do that", he said. Space and Missiles Systems Center plans to launch seven other missions this year, it said in a news release. Additionally, there are also two NASA experiments onboard, which will study the effects of radiation on seeds and the essential materials needed to grow food in space.
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