The 45th Space Wing launched a United Launch Alliance-built Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle from Space Launch Complex 41 at 7:52 p.m. (EDT) Thursday, April 22, 2010.
Credit: ULA/Pat Corkery
The Atlas V carried the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), making its first space flight. The X-37B 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 OTV 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 Mr. Gary Payton, Air Force Deputy Under Secretary for Space Programs.
"This launch helps ensure that our warfighters will be provided the capabilities they need in the future," said Col. André Lovett, 45th Space Wing vice commander, Launch Decision Authority for the mission. "The 45th Space Wing is proud to launch this historic mission and continue our commitment to assuring access to the high frontier."
Credit: United Launch Alliance
The mission marked a number of important firsts.
"As the first U.S. unmanned reentering space vehicle, the first of its kind, it has been remarkably easy to work with," said Lt. Col. Erik Bowman, 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 and industry teams of Boeing, ULA, and Astrotech, where we processed the spacecraft, to make sure everything went smoothly."
The mission was also the first-ever launch of an Atlas V with the 501 configuration, requiring no solid rocket motors, and the first launch in some five years to involve a 5-meter class fairing, said Colonel Bowman. "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.