The Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) was launched on its maiden flight into orbit on April 22 inside a 5.5m wide fairing atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The unmanned X-37B, which resembles a miniature Space Shuttle, was launched into a low-earth orbit for a mission of unspecified duration to demonstrate its utility as a reliable and cost effective reusable space vehicle for the USAF. The aircraft is nine metres long and has a wing span of 4.5 metres, and has a gross weight of about 5000kg.
“The Orbital Test Vehicle combines the best of aircraft and spacecraft to enable flexible and responsive missions,” said Paul Rusnock, Boeing’s program director for the X-37B. “This first flight will demonstrate the readiness of the X-37B to begin serving the Air Force as it continues to investigate ways to make space access more routine, affordable and responsive.”
Some reports indicate the aircraft was carrying a classified payload on its maiden mission.