US secret spaceplane takes off on mission

US secret spaceplane takes off on mission

WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
US secret spaceplane takes off on mission

The X-37B project is launched by the US space agency NASA in 1999. AP Photo

The United States on Dec. 11 launched for the third time its futuristic X-37B spacecraft, a small and pilotless plane that experts believe could open a new realm of espionage.

The 8.9-meter long vehicle blasted off aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a mission about which the U.S. Air Force has offered minimal details.

The United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, said the mission would support “space experimentation.” The U.S. military has described the X-37B program as a way to demonstrate “technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform” following the retirement of NASA’s shuttle Orbiter program.

New way of spying

The secretive nature of the equipment on the X-37B has led to speculation in the media over the missions’ aims, with some experts believing that the U.S. Air Force is looking at new way of spying.

Space experts believe that the small vehicle, with its ability to return to Earth and head back up, could be part of a state-of-the-art espionage program or may potentially be used to interfere with rival nations’ satellites.

It is the second mission of the original X-37B which went into space in 2010 in the program’s inaugural flight and stayed in orbit for more than half a year.