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The newly-established Space Force blasted a secretive space plane into orbit from Florida Sunday for a mystery military mission.
The launch out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station marked the sixth flight for the solar-powered X-37B craft — which is flown by remote control without a crew.
Riding atop an Atlas V rocket, the craft left from Space Launch Complex 41 at 9:14 a.m., following a one-day delay due to bad weather.
Officials won’t say why or how long it will remain in orbit, but the last mission lasted a record-breaking two years in space.
Jim Chilton, who is senior vice president for X-37B developer Boeing, noted that each mission has been progressively longer for the craft.
It is one of two of the Air Force’s winged space planes, which together have logged a combined 2,865 days in orbit as of Sunday.
“If you add up all the missions, just under eight years in orbit and 1 billion miles, so a lot of traveling by this machine,” Chilton said.
The craft launched with an extra compartment for experiments, including several for NASA and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, making it the largest load for science yet for a mission.
Sunday’s launch was dedicated to health care workers and others on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
United Launch Alliance, which provided the Atlas V rocket, said it followed health advice for the launch with flight controllers wearing masks and spread out.
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