The United States military's secret shuttle was launched into space on Tuesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This is the third mission of the Air Force's small shuttle called the X-37B.
The United Launch Alliance successfully fired the X-37B into orbit atop of a Atlas V rocket. The shuttle was encased in the nose cone section of the rocket. After reaching orbit trajectory, the "mini" shuttle emerges from the nose cone. The X-37B is about a quarter the size of the original space shuttle. The length is about 29 feet. This shuttle is unmanned and can land on a runway.
This is the second mission for this particular X-37B. In 2010, another X-37B orbited the Earth for seven months. This is a return mission for the original version of the craft. Its original mission orbited the Earth for a year.
Only speculation has bubbled up through the space industry about the purpose of the "mini-shuttle". Most believe it is a spy or surveillance orbiter. With a purpose to be launched very quickly and to observe a particular area of the world. For instance, the Middle East, China or other countries of interest.
Specifics about the mission were not provided to the public by the Department of Defense. In fact, after the first 17 minutes of the launch, the military ceased public commentary about the launch.