U.S. military launches X-37B space plane

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U.S. military launches X-37B space plane

Successful launch for remote-controlled orbital craft.

An experimental military space plane has been successfully put into orbit after blasting off from Cape Canaveral in the United States.

The X-37B looks similar to the space shuttle and is an unmanned military platform that could be used for spying or even offensive purposes. The craft is designed to remain in orbit for up to spend more than nine months in orbit before returning to earth automatically for resupply or reloading.

"Probably the most important demonstration is on the ground, see what it really takes to turn this bird around and get it ready to go fly again,” said Gary Payton, Air Force deputy undersecretary for space programs told Reuters.

"In all honesty, we don't know when it's coming back for sure. It depends on the progress that we make with the on-orbit experiments, the on-orbit demonstrations."

The X-37B is around a quarter of the size of the regular space shuttle and can carry a small payload that the military says it will be used to test materials in space for use in satellites of the future.

The military says that it needs the craft to be responsive to new threats. Standard space shuttle launches take months of organisation but the X-37B has the potential to be launched in hours and be able to maintain orbit for extended periods.

Although international treaties do not allow weapons of mass destruction to be deployed in space there are no rules for conventional weapons, such as the touted Rods of God – titanium rods which could be used as high speed missiles.

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