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US spaceplane is successfully launched into orbit

Artist's impression of X-37B spaceplaneThe US Space Force has successfully launched a X-37B military spaceplane into orbit. Carried aboard an Atlas V rocket, it lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 16th May 2020. The spaceplane, a reusable robotic vehicle which has undertaken five previous missions, was uncrewed. The length of the current mission is unknown. The last one was completed in October 2019 after 780 days in orbit. The first mission was launched in April 2010 and returned after around eight months.

Atlas V rocket, carrying an X-37B in May 2015
X-37B seen from front, top and sideFor its sixth mission, the X-37B, manufactured by Boeing, is fitted with a service module, enabling it to carry out two scientific experiments. In one, the effects of radiation on plant seeds are studied; the other aims to convert solar energy into radio waves, which can then be transmitted to the ground. The plane will also release from the cargo bay inside its fuselage the FalconSat-8, a small test satellite—about the size of a dishwasher. This will conduct its own experiments. The plane uses solar panels for power in orbit.

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