The US Air Force launched a Boeing X-37B space plane on 11 December from the Kennedy space center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The unmanned vehicle was carried into orbit onboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at around 13:00 Eastern Time.
This particular X-37B, one of two examples built, is on its second flight according to manufacturer Boeing. "The second mission for OTV-1 [Orbital Test Vehicle-1] demonstrates the vehicle is capable of multiple missions and affordable access to space," says Paul Rusnock, vice president of Boeing government space systems.
The USAF has flown the X-37B twice before for extended periods of time, but the service has not revealed the nature of the spacecraft's missions. One of the previous missions lasted for some 469 days.