Secret Shuttle Launch Puts Futuristic Vessel in Orbit

The Air Force recently launched an unmanned, top-secret space craft into orbit from Cape Canaveral in what is the third such launch for the Air Force.

The secret spacecraft, referred to as the X-37B, entered space by way of an Atlas V rocket and is expected to conduct tests regarding future space instruments.

Reports indicate that the secretive X-37B program is being facilitated by the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office, which some speculate tests new spy equipment for the military.

The Air Force has stated that it has two of these types of space vehicles which are about a quarter of the size of the traditional space shuttle. As governments around the world look to space for offensive capabilities, more launches can be expected.

The vessel is able to transport various types of military equipment and comes complete with a payload bay roughly the size of a pickup truck, according to The unmanned spacecraft also has the capability of entering Earth's atmosphere automatically as well as land on a runway without any additional support.

This is the third such flight for this type of aircraft, with the first one entering Earth's orbit in 2010. The first X-37B was launched in April 2010 and was in orbit for seven months, while the second mission lasted nearly 15 months in orbit.

The Rapid Capabilities Office is working on the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle "to demonstrate a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the United States Air Force," according to an Air Force statement.

There has not been too much discussion about the recent launch of the X-37B, but Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics stated that such a vehicle would be perfect to deliver equipment designed for spying. However, the Air Force has maintained that it is serving only as a vehicle to test other technologies.