* Information on orbital mission, cargo is classified
* Mini-shuttle is solar-powered, does not carry people
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., March 5 A prototype
miniature space shuttle blasted off aboard an unmanned Atlas 5
rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday for a
demonstration run that could last as long as nine months.
The experimental vehicle, known as the Orbital Test
Vehicle, or OTV, lifted off at 5:46 p.m. EST (2246 GMT). It is
the second ship to be put in space under the U.S. military's
The vehicles are smaller versions of NASA's space shuttle
orbiters -- 29 feet (8.8 metres) long, 14 feet (4.3 metres)
across. The one-third scale spaceships are solar powered,
unlike the space shuttles, and are not designed to carry
Like OTV-1, which returned from a 224-day mission on Dec.
3, what OTV-2 will do in orbit, as well as any cargo or
experiments that are aboard are classified.
They are intended to test technologies and processes for
low-cost, quick-turnaround, reusable space vehicles, as well as
serve as orbital testbeds for instruments that could be
incorporated into future satellites.
Once operational, the X-37B could be used for a variety of
missions including reconnaissance, in-space service and repair
of satellites, deploying and retrieving spacecraft, and
demonstrating new technologies, the Air Force said.
OTV-1 returned from flight in good condition, paving the
way for launch of its sister ship with few modifications. A
more detailed inspection and analysis of OTV-1 will be
undertaken as part of its refurbishment.
OTV-1 has not yet been scheduled for a second launch, but
the Air Force anticipates it will return to orbit.
No significant changes were made to OTV-2 as a result of
the OTV-1 flight.
Minor tweaks include a reduction in the vehicle's main
landing gear tire pressure by about 15 percent to help avoid
repeating the blown tire that OTV-1 experienced upon touchdown
at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Dec. 3.
The reduced pressure should better accommodate
imperfections in Vandenberg's 15,000-foot-long (4,572 metres)
runway, the Air Force said.
The vehicles were built by Boeing (BA.N).
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Jackie Frank)