Secret X-37B Space Plane To Launch From Cape Canaveral
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — The sound of a double sonic boom might once again be heard across Florida’s Space Coast after the U.S. Air Force left open the possibility of landing the next X-37B mission at Kennedy Space Center’s space shuttle landing facilities.
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), the Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane, is set to launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 501 rocket no earlier than Wednesday, May 20, 2015, from from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
In 2014, Boeing began consolidation of its X-37B operations at Kennedy Space Center by converting the former space shuttle facility, OPF-1, to a facility that would enable the U.S. Air Force to land, recover, refurbish, and re-launch the reusable unmanned space plane.
Prior to consolidation, the 29-foot-long X-37B had launched from both Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida – but the space plane only landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The consolidation of operations at Kennedy Space Center means that future OTV missions will have the option of landing in either California or Florida, an Air Force spokesperson told SpaceFlightNow.
This mission, designated OTV-4, will be the fourth mission of one of the Air Force’s two secret space planes since the first launch in April 2010. Also referred to as mini-space shuttles, the X-37B program are the only re-entry spacecraft the U.S. launches since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet.
The Air Force has not disclosed how long the fourth X-37B mission will remain in space. Although the X-37B was designed for orbital missions lasting 270 days, the last mission (OTV-3) remained in orbit for 674 days.
PHOTO: The second Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, built for the U.S. Air Force, is shown above during encapsulation within the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 5-meter fairing at Astrotech in Titusville, Florida, on February 8, 2011. Credit: Boeing
OTV Landing Video Taken By USAF: