26 September 2012
The U.S. Air Force is preparing to send its super-secret spy plane into orbit for a third time, but details of the mission will once again be kept under wraps.
The X-37B, an unmanned and reusable spacecraft built by Boeing, will launch sometime in October.
Next monthís blast-off will reportedly test the X-37Bís reusability, itís instruments and just how feasible it is for future missions.
Major Tracy Bunko at the Pentagonís Air Force press desk, told Space.com: 'One of the most promising aspects of the X-37B is it enables us to examine a payload system or technology in the environment in which it will perform its mission and inspect them when we bring them back to Earth.'
'Returning an experiment via the X-37B OTV enables detailed inspection and significantly better learning than can be achieved by remote telemetry alone.'
While the launch is slated for October, the exact date is not yet set in stone, according to Space.com.
Major Bunko told the site: 'We are on track to launch OTV-3 next month; however, the exact date remains subject to change based on range conditions, weather, etc.'
While the X-37B landed at Vendenberg Air Force Base in California, the military is looking into the possibility of landing the vessel at Kennedy Space Center in Florida - the launch site for NASAís now-defunct space shuttle program.
The X-37B program consists of two space planes - each 29 feet long and 15 feet wide, with a payload bay that is about the size of a pickup truck's bed.
The craft weighs about 11,000 pounds.
Analysts believe that the X-37B has the ability to see through clouds and bad weather.
Mystery surrounds the exact type and capabilities of the hardware aboard with some suggesting it will be used to support American soldiers in various warzones around the world.
Following an earlier launch, the Vice President of United Launch Alliance told the press: 'ULA is proud to have supported this mission and delivered critical capabilities to the men and women defending our freedom throughout the world.'
According to some intelligence analysts, the satellite contains high-tech weather imaging technology that allows it to effectively see through clouds and bad weather.
An NBC report following the first launch speculated: 'The rocket likely has a weather-imaging satellite aboard, according to intelligence analysts.
'The satellite can see through night and through bad weather, which means that it can also zoom in to 'countries of interest' with great detail, like a Google Earth on serious Cold War steroids.'
According to a ULA press release, the rocket was developed by the USAF to 'assure access to space for Department of Defense and other government payloads.'