Apr 09

Secret Spaceplane, Mystery Mission (The Daily Beast, April 7, 2014):

The Air Force’s secret space plane has been up in orbit for nearly 500 days—a space endurance record. But nearly a year and a half into the mission, the Pentagon still won’t say what the X-37B is doing up there, or when it might come back.

The U.S. Air Force boosted the robotic X-37B atop the nose of an Atlas-5 rocket in December 2012. Since then it’s orbited the Earth thousands of times, overflying such interesting places as North Korea and Iran.

Similar to the Space Shuttle in appearance, the diminutive X-37B is about a quarter the size of the old shuttles. But there are major differences. Lacking a crew, the spacecraft has no cockpit windows. The X-37B has a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed.

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Dec 12

Air Force launches mysterious X-37B space plane … again (NBC News, Dec 11, 2012):

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — An Atlas 5 rocket sent the Air Force’s X-37B mini-shuttle on its first repeat flight on Tuesday, kicking off a months-long classified mission reportedly aimed at testing advanced spy satellite sensors.

Despite earlier concerns about the weather at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the launch went off on time, just after 1 p.m. ET.

One-fourth the size of the real space shuttle, the X-37B has captured the imaginations of everyone from amateur satellite trackers to potential military rivals. The X-37B can orbit Earth for months, then re-enter the atmosphere and land autonomously. Continue reading »

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