It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, Apr. 22, 2010 (Reuters) — An unmanned Atlas rocket carrying a miniature space shuttle blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Thursday on a technology test flight that could last as long as nine months.
The 20-story rocket, built by United Launch Alliance -- a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co -- lifted off at 7:52 p.m. EDT (2352 GMT) and soared over the Atlantic Ocean, heading toward orbit.
The Air Force Space Command, based in Colorado Springs, which will oversee the mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, has classified details of the prototype shuttle's payload, experiments and planned orbital operations.
The X-37B looks like a space shuttle orbiter, with a similar shape and payload bay for cargo and experiments. But it measures 29 feet, 3 inches in length and has a 15-foot (4.5-meter) wing span, compared to the 122-foot (37-meter) orbiters with wing spans of 78 feet.
Unlike NASA's space shuttles which can stay in orbit about two weeks, X-37B is designed to spend as long as nine months in space, then land autonomously on a runway.
"In all honesty, we don't know when it's coming back for sure," said (Gary)Payton(Air Force deputy undersecretary for space programs. "It depends on the progress that we make with the on-orbit experiments, the on-orbit demonstrations."
Circling the Earth, the X-37B space plane has a full agenda of shaking out new technologies, including advanced guidance, navigation and control. Once the vehicle's payload bay doors open to space, power is provided by a deployable array of gallium arsenide solar cells coupled with lithium-ion batteries.
But after that action item is checked off, what else the X-37B will do becomes a tight-lipped affair.
"Actual on-orbit activities we do classify...for the experimental payloads that are on-orbit with the X-37," Payton said. There's enough payload room, he added as example, to house a couple of small satellites in the range of a few hundred kilograms each.
Given the X-37B's secretive duties, some analysts contend that the mission is provocative, perhaps fanning the flames for war in space.
"Truthfully, I don't know how this could be called 'weaponization' of space," Payton said. "Fundamentally, it's an updated version of the space shuttle kind of activities in space," he added, a new vehicle that could potentially help the Air Force do its space missions better.