The Air Force and its industry partners on Tuesday launched an experimental X-37B orbital test vehicle into space aboard an Atlas V rocket fired from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla. This is the third mission of an X-37 reusable spaceplane and the second flight of the first X-37 in the two-vehicle fleet. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the strides we’ve made in this program,” said Richard McKinney, the Air Force’s deputy undersecretary for space programs, in the service’s Dec. 11 release. He added, “However, it is important to keep in mind that this is an experimental vehicle, and a third mission is still relatively young for a test program.” The first X-37 vehicle spent 224 days on orbit after its inaugural launch in April 2010. After its return, the vehicle underwent refurbishment for its return to space. “We are excited to see how this vehicle performs on a second flight,” said Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, X-37B program manager. He said the length of the vehicle’s stay on orbit will depend on factors like executing the test objectives and the vehicle’s performance. The second X-37 vehicle spent 469 days in space on its maiden mission, returning to Earth in June. (Washington, D.C., report by Maj. Eric Badger) (See also Boeing release and Spaceplane Mission Gets Green Light.)
The F-35 Joint Program Office has officially announced plans to issue multiple sole-source contracts to Pratt & Whitney to upgrade the fighter’s F135 engine—a widely expected move after Pentagon officials indicated they would do so earlier this year instead of developing an entirely new engine.