U.S. Air Force Aims to Launch Space Plane Next Year

It has been a long haul to the launch pad, but the U.S. Air Force and Boeing are gearing up to loft the X-37B – an unpiloted military space plane, SPACE.com has learned.

Tucked inside the shroud of an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), the winged craft will be boosted out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, orbit the Earth and then make an auto-pilot landing in California.

The X-37B OTV-1 (Orbital Test Vehicle 1) is currently on the launch manifest for January 2010, explained U.S. Air Force Captain Elizabeth Aptekar, who works in media operations for the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.

“The vehicle is ready for the shipping process, which includes minor close-out activities,” Aptekar told SPACE.com. “The vehicle will ship at the conclusion of the pre-ship activities … which should be approximately 60 days before its launch date.”

Years ago, the X-37B was originally slated to be deployed from the payload bay of a space shuttle. But following the tragic Columbia accident, the craft was transferred to a Delta rocket, and then later geared to be sent aloft via the Atlas V EELV.

continue reading from space.com by Leonard David

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