Window For Atlas V Rocket Liftoff Is 1303-1803 EST
The Air Force is set to launch its third X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) on Tuesday. The secret test spacecraft will be boosted atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air force Station. The launch window will be open from 1303 to 1803 EST Tuesday.
This will be the second launch for this particular re-usable spacecraft, and the third mission overall for the X-37B series. The experimental space plane, developed by Boeing, is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft. This prototype measures at 29 feet in length and can return to Earth and land like an airplane. The first flight successfully landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit. The second flight launched March 5, 2011, and landed in California on June 16, 2012 after more than a year in space.
This launch has been delayed since a problem occurred with a ULA Delta IV rocket which did not perform as expected in a launch October 4. The Air Force has been conducting an investigation into that incident, which still resulted in the successful insertion of a GPS satellite into orbit. Space.com reports that even though the rocket systems are different, the Air Force conducted a detailed review of all the flight data before proceeding with the next launch.
ULA says that all "credible crossover implications" between the Delta IV issue and the Atlas V which will launch the X-37B have been "addressed and mitigated," clearing the spacecraft for launch on Tuesday.
(2011 Atlas V X-37B launch vehicle photo from file)