21:08 GMT26 January 2020
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    The US Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane is being readied for its fourth flight, lifted atop a United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket on a classified mission for Air Force Space Command, NASA announced on its website on Tuesday.

    The mission is believed to be demonstrating technology for future programs, including experiments allowing performance-enhancing modifications for communications satellites to be tested before they are introduced on operational missions.

    The X-37 will also carry NASA’s Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space, or METIS, payload to expose an array of material samples to the space environment before returning them to Earth for study.

    Developed by Boeing, the X-37B is an evolution of NASA’s proposed X-37A that was designed to be deployed from the Space Shuttle to conduct robotic satellite repair and research missions before returning to Earth independently.

    The X-37A underwent a series of glide tests in 2006, but the program was subsequently cancelled.

    The US Air Force and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency opted to continue development as a classified military program.


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    secret mission, launch countdown, X-37B, United Launch Alliance, US Air Force, United States, Atlas 5 rocket
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