Washington, June 6 (ANI): The US Air Force and Boeing are all set to launch the X-37B - an unpiloted military space plane.
According to a report by Fox News, the winged craft, tucked inside the shroud of an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), will be boosted out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, orbit the Earth and then make an auto-pilot landing in California.
The X-37B OTV-1 (Orbital Test Vehicle 1) is currently on the launch manifest for January 2010, explained US Air Force Captain Elizabeth Aptekar, who works in media operations for the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.
"The vehicle is ready for the shipping process, which includes minor close-out activities," said Aptekar. "The vehicle will ship at the conclusion of the pre-ship activities, which should be approximately 60 days before its launch date," she added.
Years ago, the X-37B was originally slated to be deployed from the payload bay of a space shuttle.
But, following the tragic Columbia accident, the craft was transferred to a Delta rocket, and then later geared to be sent aloft via the Atlas V EELV.
While next year's flight profile remains a bit hazy, reports have the X-37B under auto-pilot control zooming into Vandenberg Air Force Base for a landing, or perhaps at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
As a reusable space plane, the intent of the craft is to serve as a test bed for dozens of technologies in airframe, propulsion and operation, and other items in the hopes of making space transportation and operations significantly more affordable.
According to earlier press releases issued by Boeing, the X-37 orbital craft is capable of circling Earth for up to three weeks.
"Potential new commercial and military reusable space vehicle market applications for these technologies range from on-orbit satellite repair to the next-generation of totally reusable launch vehicles," explained past Boeing-issued material.
The intent of the X-37B mission is to try out a wide variety of experiments and technologies, including a highly durable, high-temperature thermal protection system; storable, non-toxic liquid propellants; and important new aerodynamic features - all of which are applicable to future reusable space vehicles.
The vehicle is about 27.5 feet long with a roughly 15-foot wingspan and tips the scales at about 5 tons at liftoff. (ANI)