The US Air Force has once again put its X-37B autonomous spaceplane into orbit around the earth. The uniquely configured United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the spaceship had successfully launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida, said the Boeing aviation group, which built the X-37B.
About 20 minutes after launch, the rocket placed the ship in target orbit. The launch on Sunday took place on the fourth attempt. It was originally scheduled for Saturday, May 16, but was cleaned up due to ground winds.
The plane that was launched on Sunday – Operational Test Vehicle 6 – looks like a smaller variant of a space shuttle, and will conduct a number of experiments in space in the coming months. The X-37B is an autonomous reusable spaceplane sent into low Earth orbit for long missions that can last up to two years. Its length is 8.9 meters, wingspan is 4.5 meters, and takeoff weight is about five tons.
It is the vessel’s sixth mission, where it will, among other things, study cosmic radiation and the effects of cosmic radiation on plant materials and seeds. In addition, it is also planned to install into orbit a small satellite FalconSat-8, which is being developed by the United States Air Force Academy. The mission will also collect data for an experiment by the US Naval Research Laboratory for converting solar energy into microwave energy, which could then be transmitted to the ground. In addition, the mission will test reusable space vehicle technologies.
The X-37B first launched in April 2010. It lasted over seven months. Then subsequent missions broke length records, and finally, the last, which began in 2017, lasted over two years. Up to now, five shuttle missions (including today’s) have been carried out by the Atlas V rocket, and one (the last from 2017) by the Falcon 9 rocket.
This summer, Atlas V is planned to be used as part of the Mars 2020 mission: in late July – early August, the Perseverance rover will launch on a rocket.