The drone, which resembles a smaller version of the manned space shuttles retired by the U.S. space programme in 2011, was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the Air Force said. The uncrewed test vehicle spends long periods on orbit circling the Earth while conducting these missions, with its longest mission to date being a record 780 days for its flight that landed on October 27.
The Space Force will launch a robotic X-37B space plane on a new secret mission for the United States 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 specifics of what the X-37B does in space, however, are classified.
The Air Force for a decade kept the X-37B in a cloak of secrecy but it is now openly showing it off as a symbol of USA space dominance.
It's the sixth flight of an X-37B, a solar-powered plane that's flown by remote control without a crew. 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. The X-37B will also host two National Aeronautics and Space Administration experiments that will study how seeds used for food products are impacted by the effects of radiation and the space environment.
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. "We have to stop the live broadcast early so we don't provide adversaries too much data about the flight".
"Congratulations on the 6th mission of the X-37B reusable spacecraft", Defence Secretary Mark Esper tweeted shortly after the launch. 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. One of the satellites is the U.S. Air Force Academy's FalconSAT-8 with five science payloads focused on propulsion technologies. A U.S. Naval Research Laboratory experiment will test the use of microwave beams to send solar power to Earth from space. It will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The X-37B runs various missions for the US, though its specific aims are actually classified. "We learn a lot about the value of reusability and autonomy", said Raymond.
"It suggests that the X-37B may have a mission to serve as a covert satellite deployment platform".