The United Air Force X-37B military spaceplane will be launched on Wednesday atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The unmanned X-37B is set for launching from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in what is planned as the fourth mission for the craft. Since the operation base was moved at the Kennedy Space Center former space shuttle orbiter hangars, X-37B will be launched into its first mission.
The United States Air Force’s mysterious X-37B space plane will head to orbit this week for the fourth time. Thus the mission was named Orbital Test Vehicle-4, or shortly OTV4.
Preparations for the mystery-shrouded mission were concluded on Monday when officials completed a successful Launch Readiness Review. Weather conditions seem to favor the mission as well, as good conditions were announced at 60 percent.
The new mission of the X-37B will add to the already record breaker 1,368 days logged in space over the past five years. For launching, the space plane was tucked in the 18-foot diameter nose cone of Atlas V. Of course, this acts as a protective shield during the ascent through atmosphere.
Given that the unmanned X-37B is a military space plane, much of its mission in space is understandably classified. However, the plane is carrying a Hall Thruster, a specific type of ion engine. Older versions of the Hall Thruster were used to power three Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communications satellites.
According to officials, the role of this mission is to update technology and experiment with an electric propulsion system. The prototype system was developed by the Missile Systems Center, as well as the Air Force Research Laboratory.
NASA is also tagging along on the mission. The agency intends to experiment with different materials’ reactions when exposed to space environment. NASA’s mission is known as the Materials Exposure and Technology in Space (METIS). Reportedly, METIS is scheduled to fly samples of polymers, coatings and composites, testing their reaction. The results will greatly enhance technology behind spacecraft building and not only.
Previously, NASA conducted an experiment on sample exposure on a period of 12 years, from 2001 to 2013. The missions conducted during the Materials on International Space Station Experiment send over 4,000 samples in space.
The new mission, entrusted to X-37B will build on previous findings and aid considerably with technological advancement.
The X-37B is a spin-off NASA’s retired space shuttle. It is fully robotic and solar-powered and it measures 29 feet in length and 9.5 feet in height. Its wingspan is reported at 15 feet. The launching position of X-37B is vertical and it lands horizontally.
Image Source: RedOrbit
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