US sends mystery mini-shuttle into space

2012-12-11 21:15
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, carrying an X-37B experimental robotic space plane, lifts off from launch complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.(John Raoux, AP)

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, carrying an X-37B experimental robotic space plane, lifts off from launch complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.(John Raoux, AP)

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Cape Canaveral - A top-secret mini-space shuttle has blasted off from Cape Canaveral in the US.

The Air Force launched the unmanned spacecraft on Tuesday aboard an Atlas V rocket.

It's the second flight for this original X-37B space plane. It circled the planet for seven months in 2010. A second X-37B spacecraft spent more than a year in orbit.

These mystery machines are about one-quarter the size of Nasa's old space shuttles, and they can land automatically on a runway.

The military isn't saying much, if anything, about this new secret mission. But one scientific observer, Harvard University's Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, speculates the space plane is carrying sensors designed for spying.

The two previous secret flights were in orbits roughly 321km high.

- AP
Read more on:    us  |  space
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