Technology

Air Force Rocket Launches on a Secret Mission

United Launch Alliance launched its Atlas V rocket along with the Air Force’s mysterious spaceplane X-37B and 10 satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida, plummeting into the sky and entering orbit on a secret mission. Among the 10 satellites abroad, is, the experimental “LightSail” satellite, which will test the feasibility of sunlight for propulsion.

The Air Force launch had a successful start, firing into the sky at 11:05 a.m. EDT (GMT-4). The 206 foot tall, unpiloted military spaceplane generated around 850,000 thousand pounds of thrust launching it from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Apparently, live broadcast concerning the launch was blacked out after 5 minutes, adding more mystery to the event. It has been said that X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission has been launched for national defense. This is the fourth secretive Air Force mission, and the one before was in orbit for almost two years before secretly landing on a military aircraft runway in California.

Air Force secrecy continues, as not enough information is revealed and mission objectives are unknown. Joan Johnson-Freese, from the Naval War College as a space policy analyst states that such secrecy will continue from the Air Force, with their only statement that the spaceplane is a testbed and nothing more to support their claims, causing public concern.

Everything was successful, starting from the super power RD-180 engine that shut down after 4 minutes after the launch, and the hydrogen-fueled RL10C-1 engine that powered the second stage thundered into orbit.  The low cost satellites (CubeSats) are used for experiments by college students and companies.

The LightSail is funded by members of the Planetary Society, founded by Carl Sagan and is a non-profit advocacy space group. A whopping $4.3 million fund was released for this mission, which goal is to test software and power systems after deploying so called “Myler” panels from the aircraft itself. This is the Planetary Society’s second try  after a mission failed back in 2005. A next launch from Cape Canaveral is planned to take off in June by Space X, delivering cargo to the International Space Station with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon Spacecraft.