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Mysterious US military rocket launched into space, as Air Force stays secret on high-tech satellites circling the Earth

Published 21/05/2015

The US has launched an unmanned, mysterious rocket into space, carrying technology that nobody really knows the purpose of.

Theories about the aims of the programme — which has now seen four such rockets launched — include ideas that the ship is used to monitor or break foreign satellites, carrying weapons to be dropped from space or carrying out surveillance on people around the world.

The mysterious X-37B space plane was carried into space on top of an Atlas V rocket in Florida. The Air Force owns two of the planes, which look like a little Space Shuttle and were made by Boeing.

The programme has now launched for different X-37B flights. It began with Nasa in 1999 and was then moved to the military, launching its first flight in 2006.

The programme has tested some technology that has eventually made it into more public space flights. But the military has remained quiet on what much of the experiments are, leading to theories about the secret uses to which the ships might be being put.

This time around, the Air Force has revealed some of the experiments that are on board.

That includes a special Hall thruster, which is based on new plasma-based technology that could make satellites much more efficient than the existing chemical-powered ones. And Nasa is sending a range of different materials to see how they can withstand time in space.

The ship will also be carrying a solar sail, made by a crowdfunded effort led by America popular scientists Bill Nye. That has a huge shiny sail that it hopes can harvest energy from the sun as it flies through space, put into a small box to be carried out of Earth's atmosphere.

It's not clear how long the mission will last, or even which of the Air Force's two X-37Bs have been sent up. The last mission began in December 2012, and the plane was flying for 675 days, setting a record for a reusable space vehicle.

Source: Independent

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral (Craig Bailey/Florida Today via AP)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral (Craig Bailey/Florida Today via AP)
In this photo released by United Launch Alliance, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is rolled out, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. A mini military space plane is poised for liftoff Wednesday, May 20, but as usual, the Air Force isn't saying much about the experimental unmanned flight. This will be the fourth flight of an X-37B space plane. The mystery test vehicle, operated robotically, is designed to orbit the Earth and then land like one of NASA's old shuttles. (United Launch Alliance via AP)
In a handout photo release by United Launch Alliance on May 20, 2015, a capsule carrying the air force X-37B space plane is prepared for attachment to an Atlas V rocket ahead of the launch of the AFSPC-5 mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The Air Force's X-37B space plane successfully launched for its fourth mission. AFP PHOTO/ HO/ United Launch Alliance = RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/ HO/ United Launch Alliance" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS = NO A LA CARTE SALESUnited Launch Alliance/AFP/Getty Images
In a handout photo release by United Launch Alliance on May 20, 2015, an Atlas V rocket carrying the X-37B space plane launches the AFSPC-5 mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The Air Force's X-37B space plane successfully launched for its fourth mission. AFP PHOTO/ HO/ United Launch Alliance = RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/ HO/ United Launch Alliance" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS = NO A LA CARTE SALESUnited Launch Alliance/AFP/Getty Images
In a handout photo release by United Launch Alliance on May 20, 2015, an Atlas V rocket carrying the X-37B space plane launches the AFSPC-5 mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The Air Force's X-37B space plane successfully launched for its fourth mission. AFP PHOTO/ HO/ United Launch Alliance = RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/ HO/ United Launch Alliance" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS = NO A LA CARTE SALESUnited Launch Alliance/AFP/Getty Images
In this photo provided by the United Launch Alliance, a ULA Atlas V rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. The rocket is carrying the X-37B space plane for the U.S. Air Force as well as 10 CubeSats and the Planetary Society's LightSail Mission. (United Launch Alliance via AP)

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