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April 28th, 2015

The Mystery Tour... As ULA Plans Launch Of U.S.A.F.'s X-37B Space Plane

Artist's illustration of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane in orbit. Credit: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

[SatNews] Atlas V will launch AFSPC-5 for the U.S. Air Force on a mystery mission. 

A recovery team processes the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane after the robotic spacecraft's successful landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on October 17, 2014. The touchdown marked the end of the X-37B’s third space mission. Credit: Boeing

Date/Site/Launch Time: 

No earlier than Wednesday, May 20, 2015

From Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. 

Mission Description: This mission will be launched in support of the national defense.

Launch Notes: AFSPC-5 marks ULA’s 96th mission since the company was founded in 2006 and the fifth ULA launch of 2015. AFSPC-5 also will be the 54th Atlas V launch since the vehicle’s inaugural mission in 2002. The Air Force has two such space planes.

Atlas V AFSPC-5 Mission Artwork

The United States Air Force's X-37B space plane will launch on its fourth mystery mission next month. 

The unmanned X-37B space plane looks like a miniature version of NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiter. The solar-powered spacecraft are approximately 29 feet long by 9.5 feet tall (8.8 by 2.9 meters), with a wingspan of 15 feet (4.6 m) and a payload bay the size of a pickup-truck bed. Such as the Space Shuttle, the X-37B launches vertically atop a rocket and lands horizontally on a runway.

"We are excited about our fourth X-37B mission," Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said in a statement. "With the demonstrated success of the first three missions, we’re able to shift our focus from initial checkouts of the vehicle to testing of experimental payloads."