US Launches Secretive Unmanned Mini-shuttle Into Space

US Launches Secretive Unmanned Mini-shuttle Into Space
Sun Over Earth (NASA, International Space Station Science, 11:22:09) NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr CC BY 2.0

The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday sent into space two unmanned two X-37B mini-shuttles. Much mystery surrounds the deployment of these space planes.


Capt. Christopher M. Hoyler, a spokesman for the Air Force, said the latest test mission “furthers the development of the concept of operations for reusable space vehicles.” A report by Gizmodo says the plane carries more than 100 different materials, and that these will be tested as to how they will hold up and fare while in space. It didn’t list the specifics of the materials, but a NASA release earlier this month revealed the materials will include a number of variety, such as polymers, composites, and coatings.

NASA intends to place the various materials in space to get them exposed to whatever exposure there is in space and then have them returned to Earth for evaluation.

This the fourth time such a “secretive” mission was sent into space. The last X-37B mission returned on October 2014. It lasted 674 days. Altogether, the first three X-37B flights covered 1,367 days, equivalent to 3 1/2 years.

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The latest mission will likewise test X-37B’s Hall thruster, a type of ion engine meant for maneuvering around while in space. The new orbital thruster system uses electricity and xenon.

The Air Force didn’t say how long the latest mission will take.