Air Force mystery space plane poised for Wed. launch

May 19, 2015 byMarcia Dunn
In this photo released by United Launch Alliance, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is rolled out, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. A mini military space plane is poised for liftoff Wednesday, May 20, but as usual, the Air Force isn't saying much about the experimental unmanned flight. This will be the fourth flight of an X-37B space plane. The mystery test vehicle, operated robotically, is designed to orbit the Earth and then land like one of NASA's old shuttles. (United Launch Alliance via AP)

A mini military space plane is poised for liftoff Wednesday on another long orbital test flight. But as usual, the Air Force isn't saying much about the unmanned mission.

This will be the fourth flight of an X-37B space plane, a secretive, experimental program run by the Air Force. The three previous missions also began with rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The mystery test vehicle—essentially a technology test bed—is designed to orbit the Earth and then land like one of NASA's old shuttles. It is operated robotically, without anyone on board, and is reusable. It is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long—about one-fourth the size of a NASA shuttle.

The longest X-37B flight lasted about 675 days; touchdown was last October. There's no official word on how long this one will stay up. All three previous missions ended in California.

NASA has a materials experiment aboard, while the Planetary Society is tagging along with a solar-sail demo.

Although largely mum about this X-37B flight, the Air Force has acknowledged a thruster experiment involving electric propulsion. Air Force researchers want to check design modifications to ion thrusters already flying on some advanced military communication satellites.

Wednesday's liftoff of the Atlas V rocket is scheduled for 11:05 a.m.

In this photo released by United Launch Alliance, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is rolled out Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. A mini military space plane is poised for liftoff Wednesday, May 20, but as usual, the Air Force isn't saying much about the experimental unmanned flight. This will be the fourth flight of an X-37B space plane. The mystery test vehicle, operated robotically, is designed to orbit the Earth and then land like one of NASA's old shuttles. (United Launch Alliance via AP)

Explore further: US military's robot space plane due to land this week

More information: Air Force: www.patrick.af.mil/index.asp

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Shootist
3 / 5 (1) May 19, 2015
Does no one (Jane's, for instance) have any clue about this bird? Is it a technology demonstrator? Does it visit Chinese and Sov, er, Russian spy satellites to plant grenades, or take photos? It is a photo reconnaissance vehicle, a Keyhole 13 or 15 or whatever we're up to?

Is there no hard data?
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) May 19, 2015
I'm still of the opinion that one of X37B's objectives is to achieve polar orbit to investigate the radar blip first discovered by tracking equipment even before Sputnik was launched back in the fifties. It has been photographed. NASA doesn't know any more about it than it does about any other anomalies that it has discovered, like AS15-P-9625, so it's not as if they are keeping any information from us (incidentally, the Lunar and Planetary Society's site of Apollo images archive is where you'll find that particular object). Getting a craft into and out of a polar orbit is a major achievement, and this fact can contribute toward explaining the duration of the X37Bs' missions.

Incidentally, that "Black Knight" object is not a discarded piece of heat shield from some old space shot, since it was known about at a time when neither U.S.S.R. or U.S.A. could place something that large into orbit.
mitcheroo
5 / 5 (1) May 19, 2015
Maybe they're testing Shawyer's EmDrive. If they're not, they should be.

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