Air Force launches X-37B spy plane from Florida

Katie Ramirez
May 19, 2020

Officials won't say why or how long it will remain in orbit, but the last mission lasted a record-breaking two years in space.

Raymond said during a call with reporters that the USA military gains valuable insights from each of the X-37B missions.

The winged spacecraft, also called the Orbital Test Vehicle, resembles NASA's old shuttles, but is considerably smaller at 8.8 metres long. The aircraft that was launched on Sunday - Operational Test Vehicle 6 - carries several USA military and NASA science experiments.

In its five flights the X-37B spent 2,865 days on orbit. In March, it hoisted a national security satellite.

Delayed a day by bad weather, this marked just the second rocket launch for the newly established Space Force.

A live video stream of the launch showed the Atlas V lifting off into space and the separation of the rocket's first stage from the Centaur upper stage.

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The Air Force said in a statement that its launch honors all front-line workers and responders to the COVID-19 pandemic, and those who have been affected by the outbreak.

X-37B is a classified programme and United Launch Alliance, which operates the Atlas rocket, was required to end its webcast earlier in the flight than it would normally do.

Precautions were less evident along area causeways, where spectators parked to watch the Atlas soar.

The Air Force, which own two X-37B vehicles, has historically been reticent to comment on the capabilities of the X-37B and what it does during its extended time in space, aside from hosting scientific experiments. Plans have been made for a 24-hour turnaround, with a new T-zero of 9:14 am EDT; this means that the SpaceX Starlink-7 mission, scheduled of early morning May 17, will now shift to the right on the calendar as well.

Its last flight ended in October 2019, after 780 days in orbit.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education.

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