US Air Force X-37B spaceplane off to its sixth mission

Secretive X-37B Spaceplane Rocket Launch Set For Sunday

The X-37B has a lifting body-style and landing profile that is similar to the Space Shuttle, but the vehicle is one-fourth the size. "The Air Force and Space Force have two of the robotic space planes and have launched five long-duration, but classified, missions since 2010". Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.

The craft launched with an extra compartment for experiments, including several for NASA and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, making it the largest load for science yet for a mission.

"America Strong" is the tagline for this mission, with Space Force and ULA emblazoning it on the side of the Atlas V rocket along with the message: "In memory of COVID-19 victims and tribute to all first responders and front-line workers".

Saturday's launch was the second-ever by the U.S. Space Force and the 80th under the National Security Space Launch effort.


On May 17, 2020, at 13:14 GMT, the unmanned, autonomous spacecraft lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a specially modified Atlas V 501 rocket.

The launch was dedicated to front line workers and those affected by the pandemic.

The company said it followed health advice for the launch. Earlier it had said, "The weather is "no go" due to the rain showers streaming over the pad that violate the Cumulus Cloud Rule and high ground winds". The Air Force, which own two X-37B vehicles, has historically been reticent to comment on the capabilities of the X-37B and what it does during its extended time in space, aside from hosting scientific experiments.

Another launch attempt will be made in 24 hours. It will be SpaceX's last flight before its first astronaut launch, scheduled for May 27 from next-door Kennedy Space Center. The AP is exclusively responsible for all content. Click the link to confirm your subscription and begin receiving our newsletters.

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