X-37B Launch Successful
December 11, 2012

X-37B Launches Successfully Into Orbit

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The Air Force's mysterious robotic space plane X-37B launched successfully on Tuesday afternoon, kickstarting another one of its secretive missions.

The mini-space shuttle spacecraft, also referred to as the OTV-3, flew aboard an Atlas V craft, rocketing towards its orbit from Cape Canaveral in Florida just after 1:00 p.m. local time.

X-37B is now officially on its third mission which is sure to bring much speculation as to what the mysterious spacecraft is doing up above.

During the second mission, the space plane spent 469 days in space, despite the Air Force saying it is only designed to be in orbit for 270 days.

Some speculate the vehicle is designed to keep an eye on China's activities while others say it is simply a system used for long-term space experiments.

Boeing first built the X-37B vehicles at its Huntington Beach and Seal Beach facilities a few years ago.

The spacecraft uses solar power for energy while orbiting Earth and features a 15 feet long wingspan.

While the Air Force is keeping its lips sealed about the ongoing mission, amateur astronomers are sure to be keeping an eye on X-37B's flight path to try and determine its purpose in orbit.

The X-37B launched successfully on Tuesday despite the weather conditions predicted to be just 30 percent favorable on Monday.

United Launch Alliance, creator of the very successful Atlas V rocket, provided a webcast of the launch. However, once the plane successfully reached orbit, the broadcast was ended "at the request of our customer."

The X-37B can operate in an Earth orbit for extended periods of time and is designed to re-enter Earth's atmosphere and land on autopilot. The actual spacecraft is not much of a secret but its mission and what is inside its truck-bed sized payload is.