10:41 GMT27 September 2020
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    The X-37B space plane’s forthcoming launch will be the sixth such mission by the robotic and highly classified aircraft, which was originally built to spend up to 240 days in outer space.

    Secretary of the US Air Force (USAF) Barbara Barrett has confirmed that the reusable unmanned space plane X-37B is due to blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch site in Florida on 16 May on a mission that is touted as the first to be issued by the country’s Space Force.

    “This important mission will host more experiments than any prior X-37B flight, including two NASA experiments”, Barrett was cited by the website Space.com as saying during a webinar hosted by the non-profit Space Foundation on Wednesday.

    Details of the launch remain highly classified, with the USAF only saying in a statement that the mission would involve a FalconSat-8 satellite with “five experimental payloads” to “conduct several experiments on orbit”.

    Another view of the encapsulated X-37B, a robotic vehicle that's about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long
    © Photo : U.S. Air Force
    Another view of the encapsulated X-37B, a robotic vehicle that's about 29 feet (8.8 meters) long

    One of the experiments will reportedly pertain to studying the impact of “radiation and other space effects” on materials and seeds, used to grow food.

    During another experiment, US Naval Research Laboratory scientists will try to “transform solar power into radio frequency microwave energy which could then be transmitted to the ground”.

    The X-37B’s launch will come after the robotic vehicle, originally built to spend up to 240 days in outer space, completed its record 780-day stint in orbit in late October 2019.

    It became the highly classified aircraft’s fifth mission, which USAF Rapid Capabilities Office Director Randy Walden said “successfully hosted Air Force Research Laboratory experiments, among others, as well as providing a ride for small satellites”.

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    Tags:
    mission, plane, launch, space, orbit, X-37B, United States
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