The Space Force will launch a robotic X-37B space plane on a new secret mission for the U.S. military on Saturday and the new liftoff time is scheduled at 7.43 pm (IST) (1413 GMT) after bad weather prevented a launch try earlier in the day. The one just launched features an extra compartment for experiments, including several for NASA and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, making it the biggest science load yet for an X-37B.
The X-37B, resembling a scaled-down space shuttle, measures 8.9 meters in length and 4.5 meters across at its fins.
Encapsulated X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.
The X-37B remains a classified project, but the Air Force and Space Force announced its launch would take place ahead of time. The spaceplane is featured in the U.S. Space Force's new recruiting video unveiled May 6 by Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett.
Barrett told reporters that the X-37B is "worthy of disclosure" and a capability with which the American public should be familiar.
The X-37B runs various missions for the US, though its specific aims are actually classified.
This would be the 139th mission for ULA. There has not been much information provided by the USA government or by the authorities in the past. The plane's payload fairing saw "America strong" written on it. At about 11,000 pounds and almost 29-foot long, the X-37B is large enough that it requires a big rocket like the Atlas 5 to get to orbit but not heavy enough to need extra solid boosters.
This was the 84th flight for an Atlas rocket since 2002.
The Air Force said OTV 6 will carry more experiments than any of the previous X-37B missions. It will test power-beaming technology, and will also test the effect of radiation on seeds and other materials. It will also test how solar power captured from space can be transformed into radio-frequency microwave energy that could be transmitted back to Earth.
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. However, the livestream cut out afterwards due to the extreme secrecy surrounding the capabilities of the X-37B, said ULA chief executive officer Tory Bruno. "One of the things that we've learned is the value of reusability, and I think as a Space Force there's a couple things that we're really going to value and reusability is one of those and autonomy is another one".
The newly-established Space Force blasted a secretive space plane into orbit from Florida Sunday for a mystery military mission.