X-37B Getting Ready to Fly Again
The Air Force's X-37B spaceplane is getting ready to fly again. The launch of the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) is scheduled for tomorrow at 1:03 pm ET.
There are at least two OTVs and each has flown once on super-secret missions. No details on what they do on their long-duration stays in Earth orbit have been released. The launch tomorrow is the first time that one of the vehicles will make a return trip to space. Designated the OTV-3 mission, it will launch atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral. United Launch Alliance (ULA), which builds and launches the Atas V, will webcast the launch beginning at 12:43 pm ET.
The small, winged, reusable spaceplane resembles the space shuttle and the program was actually inherited by the Department of Defense from NASA. It does not carry people.
Photo of X-37B OTV-1. Photo credit: Boeing (via Spaceflightnow.com)
The OTV that will fly tomorrow was launched on its first mission on April 22, 2010 and spent 224 days in space before returning to Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), CA. The other vehicle, usually called OTV-2, was launched in March 2011 and remained in orbit more than twice that long, 469 days, landing at VAFB on June 16, 2012.
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