Military Mini-Shuttle Launches Tuesday On Top Secret Mission

A top secret military mini-shuttle is scheduled to take off Tuesday afternoon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station , the Air Force and United Launch Alliance confirmed.

The unmanned mini-shuttle, the X-37B, is about a quarter of the size of the average space shuttle. The shuttle took off at 1:03 pm on an Atlas Five rocket.

Little is known about the mini-shuttle’s top secret mission, but one scientific observer, Harvard University’s Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, speculates the spaceplane is carrying sensors designed for spying and likely is serving as a testbed.

It’s the second flight for this original X-37B spaceplane. It circled the planet for seven months in 2010. A second X-37B spacecraft spent more than a year in orbit.

CNN’s Chad Meyers took a guess as well to what the secret mission is.:

“Well, because we don’t know what’s up there, and they don’t want us to know.” … “We don’t know whether it’s some kind of laser thing. We don’t know whether it’s weather modification -we doubt that. We don’t know whether it’s some kind of special camera looking down, working on, training, see if they work.”

The X-37B’s top secret mission may be purely for research purposes, but PC Magazine warns that the secrecy of the mini-shuttle’s mission has raised a few red flags with some foreign governments.

“The revelation that the Air Force has a space plane caused some concern among foreign governments, with some questioning whether the U.S. has deployed a space-trotting spy vehicle or weapons platform for taking down satellites.”

The X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, will spend months in orbit before returning to earth and landing at the Kennedy Space Center. The plane runs off of solar power, which allows it to stay in orbit for hundreds of days.