The U.S. Air Force launched the robotic X-37B space plane in early 2010 on a space mission that remains a secret -- even after the craft touched ground 225 days later at Vandenberg Air Force Base. In early 2011, the ship took off again on its latest mission.
Somewhere above earth is America’s latest spaceship, a 30-foot craft called the X-37B so classified that the Pentagon will not divulge its mission nor how much it cost to build.
But the real classified project is even more secret.
According to the Associated Press, a rocket carried an experimental hypersonic glider able to travel more than 4,000 miles in 30 minutes blasted off over the Pacific Ocean around the same time as the X-37B.
The 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base acknowledged that the glider took off Thursday afternoon from the central California coast, but the Air Force statement does not reveal the result of the test involving the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2.
A fact sheet from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency says the vehicle was to be accelerated into the upper atmosphere, separate from its booster and glide across the Pacific at 13,000 mph.
Thirty minutes and 4,100 miles later it was to crash and sink near Kwajalein Atoll, some 2,100 miles southwest of Hawaii, where the craft would sink, with no plans for recovery.
The somewhat-less mysterious X-37B launched successfully by the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, using an Atlas V rocket. It looks like a mini-Space Shuttle -- but its mission is top secret as well.
It is officially described as an orbital test vehicle. However, one of its potential uses appears to be to launch a surge of small satellites during periods of high international tension. This would enable America to have eyes and ears orbiting above any potential trouble spot in the world.
The X-37B can stay in orbit for up to 270 days, whereas the Shuttle can last only 16 days. This will provide the U.S. with the ability to carry out experiments for long periods, including the testing of new laser weapon systems. This would bring accusations that the launch of X-37B, and a second vehicle planned for later this year, could lead to the militarization of space.
U.S. defense officials, who would not say how much the project cost, insisted, however, that it was “just an updated version of the Space Shuttle activities.”
With all the focus on the launch of the secret X-37B, another space launch by a Minotaur IV rocket from Vandenberg Air Force base in California received less attention, noted the Times Online. It was carrying the prototype of a new weapon that can hit any target around the world in less than an hour.