U.S. Military Sends Mystery Space Drone back Into Orbit, Mission Unknown

The U.S. military launched its highly secretive unmanned $1 billion X-37B space plane into orbit today from Cape Canaveral on top of an Atlas V rocket.

The U.S. Air Force which operates the small, top-secret version of the space shuttle still will not say how long the third X-37B mission will last, nor what the vehicle will be doing in orbit.

Cloud coverage in the area had threatened to scupper today’s launch, but the skies cleared sufficiently for the classified mission to take-off on time at 1.03 p.m from the Florida space center.

It is the second flight for this original X-37B spaceplane. The craft circled the planet for seven months in 2010. A second X-37B spacecraft spent more than a year in orbit.

The high-tech mystery machines – 29 feet long – are about one-quarter the size of NASA’s old space shuttles and can land automatically on a runway.

The two previous touchdowns occurred in Southern California; this one might end on NASA’s three-mile-long runway once reserved for the space agency’s shuttles.

The military isn’t saying much if anything about this new secret mission known as OTV-3, or Orbital Test Vehicle, flight No. 3. In fact, launch commentary ended 17 minutes into the flight and a news blackout followed.

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