Air Force’s X-37B Launches Into Orbit

The test flight of the unmanned space airplane X-37B, carried by the Atlas V, was started in a perfect launch from Cape Canaveral yesterday (April 22).

“That launch was absolutely spectacular,” said ULA spokesman Mike Rein. “It was right at twilight, so the first half of the mission was in the shadows of sunset. But then it broke out into the sunlight at high altitude, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.”

The X-37B was originally developed in 1999 by Boeing’s Phantom Works (who was being contracted out by NASA).  In 2004, the project was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and in 2006 the design got an overhaul by the United States Air Force.  After being completed recently, the end result was named the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV).

According to DailyTech.com, the craft “has a 4.5 meter wingspan with a length of 8.9 meters.  It comes equipped with kerosene and hydrogen peroxide fuel tanks, an experimental bay, a large navigation “brain”, and likely other more secret components.”

No one knows what its purpose is or why it’s being launched in the first place.  The launch itself was supposed to be secretive, as was admitted by Gary Payton, Air Force deputy under secretary for space systems.  “Well, you can’t hide a space launch, so at some point extra security doesn’t do you any good.”

The OTV will remain in orbit for nine months before landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.