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Saturday, March 5, 2011

X-37B space plane: Air Force robotic space plane launched into orbit -

Air Force X-37B space plane launched into orbit

The Air Force says the space plane is designed to stay in orbit for 270 days, but it's not saying much else about the mission.

X-37B launch

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Air Force's X-37B space plane launches from its Space Launch Complex-41 launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Pat Corkery / United Launch Alliance / March 5, 2011)

An experimental robotic space plane was launched into orbit atop a massive Atlas V rocket Saturday for a classified Air Force mission that could last up to nine months.

The 19-story Atlas V and the space plane, dubbed the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 5:46 p.m. Eastern time.

The unmanned X-37B, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, is about 29 feet long with a wingspan of about 15 feet. The spacecraft draws solar power for energy using unfolding panels.

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