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US sends futuristic X-37B plane back into space

Published on Dec 12, 2012 6:06 AM
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, carrying an X-37B experimental robotic space plane, lifts off from launch complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Tuesday, Dec 11, 2012, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Air Force officials said the unmanned space plane, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, provides a way to test technologies in space. -- PHOTO : AP 

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Tuesday launched for the third time its futuristic X-37B spacecraft, a small and pilotless plane that experts believe could open a new realm of espionage.

The 8.9m long vehicle blasted off aboard an Atlas V rocket at 1.03pm (2.03pm Singapore time) from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a mission about which the US Air Force has offered minimal details.

The United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, streamed live footage on its website of the blastoff. It said the mission would support "space experimentation." The US military has described the X-37B programme as a way to demonstrate "technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform" following the retirement of Nasa's shuttle Orbiter programme.

The secretive nature of the equipment on the X-37B has led to speculation in the media over the missions' aims, with some experts believing that the US Air Force is looking at new way of spying.

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