Atlas 5 on the pad at Launch Complex 41.
On Wednesday May 20, United Launch Alliance services launched the Air Force's X-37B re-useable robotic shuttle into Earth orbit. There are two spaceplanes in the X-37B fleet, and this was the second flight for the second spacecraft. There have been four X-37B flights so far. On these classified missions, it's not made known to the general public what experiments are being conducted, nor when the spaceplanes will glide back to Earth.
Previous Atlas 5 with X-37 shroud.
Th flight marks the 54th Atlas 5 flight. The rocket has been chosen for use with Boeing's CST-100 manned space capsule, which is undergoing testing in preparation for use as a low-orbit ferry in years to come.
X-37 being fitted with protective shroud.
The last X-37B fllight lasted for more than two years, so this could also be a long flight. Some of the tests the Air Force has been making are materials exposure tests which require long periods in open vacuum. On this flight, the craft is also carrying 10 small deployable satellites for various other institutions.