The U.S. military’s mystery space plane headed back to orbit Sunday morning, carrying an extra load of science experiments.
Sunday’s mission represents the sixth flight of an X-37B, which is a solar-powered plane flown by remote control and without a crew.
Officials have not said how long the spacecraft will stay in orbit, or provide any details about the mission.
However, the previous mission lasted a record two years and ended with a touchdown during darkness at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last year.
The winged vehicle looks similar to NASA’s old shuttles, but is just 29 feet long.
The one that was launched over the weekend includes an extra compartment for experiments, some of which are for NASA. The Air Force has two of the reusable space planes.
To recap, #AtlasV launched at 9:14amEDT (1314 UTC) from Cape Canaveral for @SpaceForceDoD. At the request of our customer, this will conclude our live coverage of today's countdown and #USSF7 liftoff. https://t.co/5ZftXlaW5X pic.twitter.com/I0BFc9LSCr
— ULA (@ulalaunch) May 17, 2020
Since they first flew a decade ago, the pair of space planes have logged a combined 2,865 days in orbit, for a total of seven years and 10 months.
Delayed for one day by bad weather around the state, this weekend’s liftoff marks the second rocket launch for the newly established Space Force, which sent a national security satellite into space two months ago.
United Launch Alliance, which provided the Atlas V rocket this time around, dedicated Sunday’s launch to the health care workers and others who are working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Many of the flight controllers involved wore masks and were spread out.
Before dawn Monday, SpaceX will attempt to launch another group of its Starlink satellites for global internet service.
That would be the company’s last flight before its first astronaut launch, which is scheduled for May 27 from Kennedy Space Center.