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US to launch new secretive space plane in futuristic Air Force programme

Published on Dec 11, 2012 8:16 AM

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States is planning a new launch of its tiny, pilotless military space plane on Tuesday as part of a futuristic Air Force programme that has fuelled speculation over its mission.

The X-37B, which weighs five tonnes and is 8.9m long, can return material to Earth in the way of the retired shuttle Orbiter programme but is designed to stay in orbit for much longer at 270 days.

The last X-37B returned in June after orbiting for 469 days in a test of endurance.

The United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, approved the X-37B at Cape Canaveral in Florida after finding no danger following an anomaly during a separate launch two months ago.

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