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USAF sends unmanned shuttle on secret mission

April 22, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A mystery space plane operated by the U.S. Air Force is apparently circling the globe cloaked in secrecy. Some fear it will lead the way to "Star Wars" in space.The first launch of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Thursday night is being called a success. But the Pentagon will not explain why it's spending money on a small unmanned space plane that's guided by remote control.

On this test flight, the X-37B will deploy a set of solar panels designed to keep it powered for as long as 270 days. Its other activities are secret.

The Air Force isn't saying when the flight will end, but the space plane is supposed to land on a runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Some critics fear the 29-foot-long craft could someday carry weapons to shoot down enemy satellites.

The X-37B was built by Boeing in Seal Beach. It began as a technology demonstrator for NASA but was taken over by the Air Force in 2006.

The Pentagon will have to determine whether it is worth the huge expense to develop this experimental space plane for military use.