Following a smooth countdown today United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V launched the military’s X-37B space plane. The rocket lifted off from SLC-41 and carried the space plane to orbit before deploying it, the rocket also carried a secondary payload of Cubesat’s including The Planetary Societies LightSail test. The Planetary Society is currently raising money for the next test spacecraft due to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy next year.
While most of the X-37B’s mission is secret we do have some information on what will be done during the mission
1) Continuation of NASA’s advanced materials investigation – This was flown on the International Space Station a number of times and allowed NASA to test different materials in the vacuum of space to see the impact on those materials.
2) An experimental propulsion system – This ION engine called a Hall thruster will be tested while the vehicle is on orbit.
The last X-37B mission spent 675 days in space before returning to Earth, there is no details on how long this mission will last.
We will publish another article on the LightSail later when we hear news on it’s status and progress.
Below are images of the launch