The U.S. Air Force has successfully launched its high-technology drone X-37B on Sunday, May 17th, sending the reusable probe into orbit for its sixth secretive project in space. The drone, which looks a lot like a smaller variant of the crewed space shuttles closed back in 2011 by the U.S. space program, took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, according to the Air Force.
“Congratulations on the 6th mission of the X-37B reusable spacecraft,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper tweeted immediately after the launch.
The massive Atlas V rocket took off with a powerful shacking noise at 9:14 am (13H14 GMT) to place the vehicle, also known as an Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), into space. The drone is set to spend months in orbit, remotely performing a lot of experiments.
Drone X-37B and a Highly Secretive Mission
Drone X-37B will also deploy a small research satellite called FalconSat-8, which is programmed to perform some more experiments, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett explained earlier this month, giving a few details on the project that has been kept highly secretive.
“This X-37B mission will host more experiments than any prior missions,” said Barrett, who is also the chief of the recently created U.S. Space Force.
Two of the experiments were specified, namely one that is testing the impacts of radiation on seeds and other materials, and another that is transforming solar power into radio-frequency microwave energy that could be sent to the ground, but everything else about the mission is kept highly secretive.
The X-37B is a 29 feet (9 meters) long drone and has a wingspan on 15 feet (4.5 meters). The Pentagon has finally decided to publish photos of the drone, but until now had only unveiled a couple of details about its missions and abilities.
Drone X-37B’s last flight ended in October 2019, after it spent 780 days in orbit.