Air Force set for second super-secret spacecraft blast-off

Air Force X-37B set for second long space visit

The US Air Force will launch a second secretive spaceship, the X-37B, tomorrow if the weather holds and all systems are go.

The first X-37B, known as Orbital Test Vehicle 1, launched April 22 last year and stayed in space conducting experiments for some 220 days.  The ship fired its orbital maneuver engine in low-earth orbit to perform an autonomous reentry before landing, the Air Force stated.

The X-37B carries a super-secret payload, but provides what the Air Force calls a flexible space test platform to conduct various experiments with network satellite sensors, subsystems, components and associated technology, according to the Air Force.  

According to the Air Force the spacecraft is based on NASA's X-37 design (NASA's X-37 system was never built) and is designed for vertical launch to low Earth orbit altitudes where it can perform long duration space technology experimentation and testing. Upon command from the ground, the orbital test vehicle autonomously re-enters the atmosphere, descends and lands horizontally on a runway. The X-37B is the first vehicle since NASA's Shuttle Orbiter with the ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis, but with an on-orbit time of 270 days can stay in space for much longer, the Air Force states.

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Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, and lightweight electromechanical flight systems, the Air Force stated.

The Air Force lists the following as the basic description of the X-37B:

Primary Mission: Experimental test vehicle

Prime Contractor: Boeing

Height: 9 feet, 6 inches (2.9 meters)

Length: 29 feet, 3 inches (8.9 meters)

Wingspan: 14 feet, 11 inches (4.5 meters)

Launch Weight: 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms)

Power: Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries

Launch Vehicle: Lockheed-Martin Atlas V (501)

Launch specialists at the Air Force Space Command's 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., will launch the vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on an Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41. The vehicle will land at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and will be recovered by the 30th Space Wing.

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