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Launch of robotic spacecraft to be webcast

April 22, 2010 |  4:27 pm

The X-37 inside a capsule atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Credit: United Launch Alliance.
A small robotic spacecraft that looks like a miniature version of the space shuttle is set to launch today from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The spacecraft, dubbed the X-37, will be sent up on top of an Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., and will be webcast beginning at 4:32 p.m. PST on the company’s website. The launch is set for 4:52 p.m.

The U.S. Air Force, which has been developing the X-37 pilotless space plane, hasn't said much about the spacecraft, fueling speculation that it’s being developed for military purposes.

Built by Boeing Co.'s advanced research lab, Phantom Works, in Huntington Beach, the X-37 would be the first U.S. unmanned spacecraft to be launched into space and come back to Earth on its own.

The X-37, which Air Force officials say can stay in space for up to nine months, is expected to land on the 15,000-foot landing strip at Vandenberg Air Force Base, although Air Force officials did not say when it will return.

-- W.J. Hennigan