U.S. military space plane returns to orbit

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Sunday, May 17, 2020, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The mission’s primary payload is the X-37B spaceplane. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The U.S. military sent its mystery space plane, the solar-powered X-37B, into orbit on Sunday.

The winged spacecraft, launched in a Saturn V rocket, is flown by remote control without a crew and has an extra compartment for experiments, but the duration and purpose of the mission was not disclosed.

The launch marked the second for the newly formed Space Force. But the military’s reusable space planes had logged a total of 2,865 days in orbit as of Sunday, after a decade of flights.

The spacecraft are modeled after the retired space shuttle fleet, although the military craft are just 29 feet long, one-quarter of the size of the old shuttles.

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