The Air Forcelaunched the sixth mission of the uncrewed X-37B spy plane toward orbit at 9:14 a.m. EDT Sunday from Florida with several experiments on board.
Prior to consolidation, the 29-foot-long X-37B had launched from both Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida - but the space plane only landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
"Congratulations on the 6th mission of the X-37B reusable spacecraft", Defense Secretary Mark Esper tweeted shortly after the launch. The aircraft that was launched on Sunday - Operational Test Vehicle 6 - carries several USA military and NASA science experiments.
"In collaboration with the U.S. Space Force and Air Force, this mission has been dedicated in honor of front-line workers and those affected by COVID-19", United Launch Alliance said in a news release Friday.
The Boeing-made X-37B is an unmanned, reusable spacecraft that takes off vertically and lands horizontally on a runway. However, a senior vice president for X-37B developer Boeing, Jim Chilton, noted that each mission for the craft has been progressively longer. This time, the plane is carrying payloads aimed at testing power-beaming technology and gauging the effects of space radiation on seeds for crops - plus FalconSat-8, a small experimental satellite to be deployed in orbit.
A live video stream of the launch showed the Atlas V lifting off into space and the separation of the rocket's first stage from the Centaur upper stage. In March, it hoisted a national security satellite.
Precautions were less evident along area causeways, where spectators parked to watch the Atlas soar. It will be SpaceX's last flight before its first astronaut launch, scheduled for May 27 from next-door Kennedy Space Center.
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