CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla.: Members of the 45th Space Wing here launched a United Launch Alliance-built Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle carrying an X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at 7:52 p.m. EDT April 22 here.
The X-37B, making its first space flight, will provide a flexible space test platform to conduct various experiments and allow satellite sensors, subsystems, components and associated technology to be efficiently transported to and from the space environment where it will need to function.
A number of new technologies will also be tested on the X-37B itself.
“If these technologies on the vehicle prove to be as good as we estimate, it will make our access to space more responsive, perhaps cheaper, and push us in the vector toward being able to react to warfighter needs more quickly,” said Gary Payton, the Air Force deputy undersecretary for space Programs.
“This launch helps ensure that our warfighters will be provided the capabilities they need in the future,” said Col. André Lovett, the 45th Space Wing vice commander and launch decision authority for the mission. “The 45th Space Wing (members are) proud to launch this historic mission and continue our commitment to assuring access to the high frontier.”
The mission marked a number of important firsts.
“As the first U.S. unmanned re-entering space vehicle, the first of its kind, it has been remarkably easy to work with,” said Lt. Col. Erik Bowman, the 45th Launch Support Squadron commander. “Processing and preparations went extremely smooth, and there were absolutely no delays in the vehicle processing. Overall there was great cooperation between the Air Force (officials) and industry teams of Boeing, (United Launch Alliance) and Astrotech, where we processed the spacecraft, to make sure everything went smoothly.”
The mission was also the first launch of an Atlas V with the 501 configuration, requiring no solid rocket motors, and the first launch in five years to involve a 5-meter class fairing, Colonel Bowman said. “This vehicle is light enough to launch without the solid rocket motors even with the larger fairing, making this a rather unique configuration.”
The X-37B program directly supports the Department of Defense’s technology risk reduction efforts for new satellite systems. It will provide an “on-orbit laboratory” test environment to prove new technology and components before those technologies are committed to operational satellite programs.