Rocket launch to carry space plane prototype into orbit

By Jerry Hume, Reporter
Last Updated: Sunday, December 09, 2012, 7:35 PM EST

It’s hush, hush, but not even one of the most classified military missions can go unnoticed.

An Atlas V rocket is set to blast off Tuesday from the Space Coast.

On board is a secret mini-space shuttle called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.

It’s an unmanned space plane, a quarter size of the space shuttle, which can land on its own.

Ozzie Osband, who runs says the plane’s payload could be carrying just about anything.

“It may be a spy mission, it may be just a research mission, there might be some things they want to know,” Osband said. “If they can find out things on the ground with this particular kind of instrument and they’ll try it out on a mission like this, so they don’t have to tell anybody what it is they find out.”

The U.S. Air Force is behind this plane. They’re not releasing many details.

This will be the third launch of the X-37B from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The last space plane stayed in orbit 469 days before landing on earth.

Not only is the mini-shuttle supposed to keep us guessing, but also China and the rest of the world.

Some Chinese space experts are suspicious of the X-37B, believing it’s a U.S. space weapon.

“When you consider the military, the military likes to have the high ground and there’s nothing higher than space,” Osband said.

The launch has been delayed several times.

That’s so United Launch Alliance, which is behind the Atlas V rocket could investigate a glitch during a launch back in October.

“We had a little bit of concern with our upper stage engine, so we wanted to do some investigation and look into what was going on with that engine prior to (launch of the Orbital Test Vehicle),” said Jessica Rye, a ULA spokesperson.

Weather may be a concern.

Earlier Sunday, there was a 40 percent chance of favorable weather conditions on Tuesday. That was decreased to 30 percent Sunday evening.

The launch is set for 1:03 p.m.

The launch window extends until 6:03 p.m.