Secret Shuttle Mission Blasts Off From Cape Canaveral

By  //  December 11, 2012

X-37B Space Plane Makes Third Trip Into Orbit

BREVARD COUNTY • CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – A secret U.S. Air Force unmanned spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday afternoon on board an Atlas V rocket.

The first X-37B is shown in April 2010 inside its payload fairing prior to launch. This is the same spacecraft that will blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station sometime Tuesday. (Image courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force X-37B mini-orbiter was originally supposed to launch in October, but mechanical problems pushed back liftoff until 1:03 p.m. Tuesday.

The launch came off without a hitch as the Air Force successfully launched the X-37B orbiter space plane for the third time.

Tuesday’s flight is the second for this particular X-37B as it logged 224 days, 9 hours and 24 minutes in space between April and December 2010.

Another X-37B was launched in March 2011 and landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in June of this year after 469 days in orbit.

The spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral Launch Pad 41 using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V and is expected to remain in space for an unknown duration of time on a classified mission.

It took the Atlas V carrying the X-37B into orbit about 90 seconds to reach Mach 1, the speed of sound.

The X-37B is similar to the space shuttle as it is a reusable vehicle that has a medium-sized cargo bay for classified experiments and scientific instruments.

All the Air Force will say about the X-37B is that the program focuses on “risk reduction, experimentation and operational concept development for reusable space vehicle technologies in support of long-term developmental space objectives.”

The U.S. Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office supervises X-37B missions.