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Air Force Launches New Spaceship on Test Flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A powerful Atlas V rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Thursday, hauling up a next-generation military spaceship that will land in California sometime in the next nine months.

The 19-story rocket roared off its beachside launch pad at 7:52 p.m. EDT as the sun began to set in the west.

The Atlas V carried the Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle - a spaceship that looks like a miniature space shuttle orbiter.

The first flight of the spaceship is a shakedown cruise - a test-flight aimed at seeing how well its systems operate in orbit. The winged spaceship will re-enter Earth's atmosphere and land in California on autopilot.

"We will send commands to it to close up the solar array and the payload bay doors and all of that, and then tell it to do a de-orbit burn at a certain time," said Gary Payton, Air Force Under Secretary for Space Programs.

"Then it's on autopilot, literally, the entire time, the rest of the way in."

Another key objective will come after landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Officials want to see if the X-37B can be readied for its next flight rapidly, and at low cost.

The exact landing date is to be determined. It will depend on how quickly mission objectives are completed. The craft is designed to remain in space up to 270 days.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A powerful Atlas V rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Thursday, hauling up a next-generation military spaceship that will land in California sometime in the next nine months.

The 19-story rocket roared off its beachside launch pad at 7:52 p.m. EDT as the sun began to set in the west.

The Atlas V carried the Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle - a spaceship that looks like a miniature space shuttle orbiter.

The first flight of the spaceship is a shakedown cruise - a test-flight aimed at seeing how well its systems operate in orbit. The winged spaceship will re-enter Earth's atmosphere and land in California on autopilot.

"We will send commands to it to close up the solar array and the payload bay doors and all of that, and then tell it to do a de-orbit burn at a certain time," said Gary Payton, Air Force Under Secretary for Space Programs.

"Then it's on autopilot, literally, the entire time, the rest of the way in."

Another key objective will come after landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Officials want to see if the X-37B can be readied for its next flight rapidly, and at low cost.

The exact landing date is to be determined. It will depend on how quickly mission objectives are completed. The craft is designed to remain in space up to 270 days.

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