A secret United States Air Force space plane will be launched for making its 4th trip to space this Wednesday. Like its previous flights, this one also appears to be a pretty secretive one. The Air Force hasn’t yet revealed much about the tasks assigned to the X-37B, an unmanned spacecraft with significant similarities with the retired space shuttles of NASA.
Captain Christopher M. Hoyler, a spokesperson representing the Air Force, said that this new test mission is looking to take the idea of reusing space vehicles forward and adjust different technical parameters for giving the concept of having an inexpensive reusable space vehicle a proper shape.
NASA, on the other hand, is planning to take advantage of this flight of X-37B and find out how hundred different materials react when exposed to harsh conditions like extreme radiation, temperature swings etc.
For those who don’t know: Boeing has constructed a couple of X-37B spaceships for the US Air Force. The year 2010 saw the launch of the first one; the speculations surrounding the purpose of the vessel started surfacing almost simultaneously. According to some, the spacecraft was a part of a project involving space weapons; this rumor was denied by the Pentagon. Following its launch in April 2010, the spacecraft landed in December 2010.
The other orbiter was launched in March 2011, and its mission continued till June 2011. The third flight by an X-37B space vessel was again taken by the first craft. It was launched in December 2012 and returned after exactly 674 days, in October that year.
It’s not yet known which of the two aircrafts the Air Force is planning to launch this time. In a statement released in April, the director of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office Randy Walden said that he and his team are super excited about the X-37B’s 4th mission. He added that the success of the previous three missions will allow them to start testing experimental payloads. The 4-hour launch window will be opening at 10.45 am Wednesday. The launch program should be smooth as forecasts are indicating a 60% chance of having a favorable weather.