An Atlas V had launched the X-37B experimental space plane into orbit last night from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
No additional information has been leaked regarding its mission. But according to the GlobalSecurity.org:
The X-37B has a 270-day on-orbit capability and will be used to test technologies including advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics and high temperature structures and seals. Once the testing is complete, the OTV de-orbits and lands autonomously. While the X-37B is on orbit, it is like most satellites in that there are operators monitoring telemetry and sending commands to maintain the health of the spacecraft. Upon being given the command to return to Earth, the X-37B will automatically descend through the atmosphere and land on the designated runway. There is no one on the ground with a joystick flying it. The X-37B is scheduled to land at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
|Credit: USAF, Boeing|
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is a non-operational system that will demonstrate a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The spacecraft measures more than 29 feet long and nine-and-a-half feet tall. Its wingspan is 14 feet, 11 inches, and it will weigh about 11,000 pounds at launch. The objectives of the OTV program include space experimentation, risk reduction and a concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies. The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft. Based on NASA‘s X-37 design, the unmanned OTV is designed for vertical launch to low Earth orbit altitudes where it can perform long duration space technology experimentation and testing. Upon command from the ground, the OTV autonomously re-enters the atmosphere, descends and lands horizontally on a runway. The X-37B is the first vehicle since NASA’s Shuttle Orbiter with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis.
Watch this video of the X-37B Space Plane launch…