A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane on May 20. Credit: ULA

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane on May 20.
Credit: ULA

 

The U.S. Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office is flying the fourth mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) – the military’s secretive robotic space plane.

The reusable and unpiloted winged craft was orbited on May 20 by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 501 booster on an AFSPC-5 mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Credit: ULA

Credit: ULA

 

The X-37B is built by Boeing Network & Space Systems, the same unit that designs and delivers satellites used for communications, navigation, intelligence, and weather monitoring.

Only two X-37B vehicles have been confirmed as being built.

The first OTV mission began April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit. The second OTV mission began March 5, 2011, and concluded on June 16, 2012, after 468 days on orbit. The X-37B program completed its third mission on October 17, 2014 landing after 674 days on-orbit.

A third mission of the Boeing-built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle was completed on Oct. 17, 2014, when it landed and was recovered at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California following a successful 674-day space mission. The upcoming space plane flight – on the program’s fourth mission -- may land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Boeing

A third mission of the Boeing-built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle was completed on Oct. 17, 2014, when it landed and was recovered at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California following a successful 674-day space mission. The upcoming space plane flight – on the program’s fourth mission — may land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Credit: Boeing

 

How many days the currently flying OTV-4 mission will chalk up is unknown.

The recent Atlas V mission also included use of the Aft Bulkhead Carrier (ABC) carrying the National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO’s) Ultra Lightweight Technology and Research Auxiliary Satellite (ULTRASat).

ULTRASat is composed of 10 CubeSats managed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and NASA.

The ABC contained 8 P-Pods that released 10 CubeSats developed by the U.S Naval Academy, the Aerospace Corporation, Air Force Research Laboratory, The Planetary Society and California Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo.

NOTE: A new and informative video on the Boeing-built X-37B has been released and can be viewed here:

http://www.space.com/29479-x-37b-space-plane-s-capabilities-explained-by-boeing-video.html

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