Boeing/USAF Space Plane Flies Again in May



Images Credit & Copyright: United States Air Force (USAF) of X-37B (OTV-1) enclosed in the 5 meter payload fairing of its Atlas V launch vehicle.

LAUNCH ALERT: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 10:45 EDT (14:45 UTC) a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V-501 Rocket will launch the mysterious X-37B space place as part of AFSPC-5 or Orbital Test Vehicle-4 (OTV-4) from Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41 or SLICK-41) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Florida. After launch, the vehicle should receive a U.S. government “USA-XXX” number designation.

This launch will also carry with it, the Planetary Society’s LightSail 1 spacecraft which, if you’re a Planetary Society member or just a new technology fan in general you will love this!

This is ULA’s 5th flight of 2015, 54th launch of an Atlas V since its inaugural 2002 launch, the ULA’s 96th launch since the company’s founding in December of 2006.

HH-60G munitions training

Air Force Space Command-5 (AFSPC-5) Orbital Test Vehicle-4 (OTV-4) is the fourth launch of the mysterious Boeing Phantom Works X-37B space plane.   In short, it’s an unmanned mini-shuttle with no windows and complete with a payload bay and thermal reentry tiles. Its 8.9 m (30 ft.) in length, 2.9 m (9.5 ft.) tall, carries a wing span of 4.5 m and weight around 5,000 kg (11,000 lbs.) at launch. It’s powered by a single Aerojet-Rocketdyne engine and carries solar cells, lithium ion batteries as well as advanced avionics and the entire system is autonomous. Before flying atop Atlas V rockets, it was planned that the X-37B would be deployed from the Space Shuttle payload bay though these plans never materialized.

How long it will remain in orbit as well as what’s it doing once it gets there is anybody’s guess but there have been 3 previous flights with 2 vehicles, each longer than the previous one.

OTV-1 (USA-212): The first of two, X-37B’s launched on April 22, 2010 on an Atlas V-501 rocket (AV-012) from SLC-41 at CCAFS. It landed at Vandenberg AFB on December 3, 2010 bringing total mission duration to 224 days, 9 hours.

OTV-2 (USA-226): The second of two, X-37B’s launched on March 5, 2011 on an Atlas V-501 rocket (AV-026) from SLC-41 at CCAFS. It landed at Vandenberg AFB on June 16, 2012 bringing total mission duration to 468 days, 13 hours.

OTV-3 (USA-240): The second mission for the first X-37B launched on December 11, 2012 on an Atlas V-501 rocket (AV-034) from SLC-41 at CCAFS. It landed at Vandenberg AFB on October 17, 2014 bringing total mission duration to just under, 675 days.

Boeing announced that on Friday, January 3, 2014 it plans to convert the Space Shuttle, Orbiter Processing Facility-1 (OPF-1) and Orbiter Processing Facility-2 (OPF-2) aka two of three 29,000 square foot, 95 ft. tall Space Shuttle garages to process X-37B’s on a smaller scale but in a similar manner to what the Space Shuttle went through. A sign over the bay door now says “Home of the X-37B.” OPF-1 had been vacant since May 17, 2011 when STS-135 Atlantis was backed out for its “rollover” to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

Back on October 31, 2011 Boeing had announced that it had signed a 15 year lease with NASA for use of Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) where it will create 550 jobs to manufacture and process the Boeing CST-100 Crew Capsule for NASA’s Commercial Crew program. Boeing has renamed the building the Commercial Crew & Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF).

As the three previous X-37B flights have landed at Vandenberg AFB it’s rumored that with the processing going on at KSC now, OTV-4 will upon its return land at the former Space Shuttle Runway.

New unmanned spacecraft set to launch

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-5 (V) 500 Series rocket is a two-stage rocket that depending on the size of the fairing used stands between 59.7 m (196 ft.) and 65.5 m (215 ft.) with a diameter of 12.5ft (3.81m) and consists of an Atlas Common Core Booster with a Russian RD-180 engine and first stage with a United States RL-10 Centaur upper stage built by AeroJet-Rocketdyne. The vehicle is available in 6 different configurations which are built specifically for each individual mission. Its launch sites are Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Launch Complex-41 (LC-41) or Vandenberg Air Force Base, Launch Complex-3 (LC-3). Performance to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) ranges from 8,320 lb. to 19,620 lb. Performance to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) ranges from 17,510 lb. to 40,800 lb.


5 = 5 Meter fairing (2-shell).

0 = 0 External solid rocket boosters.

1 = 1 Centaur second stage engine.

MAIN PAYLOAD FAIRING (PLF): The Main Payload Fairing for the Atlas-V-421 is a two-shell, 5 m (13.8 ft.) diameter fairing and is used to protect the spacecraft & Centaur during its ascent through atmospheric turbulence and into space. Once safely out of Earth’s atmosphere (Or at least most of it), the fairing is pyrotechnically jettisoned via a debris-free actuating system.

CENTAUR UPPER STAGE: The Centaur Upper stage is 3.1 m (10 ft.) in diameter and 12.7 m (41.6 ft.) in length. It consists of a single Cryogenic RL-10A-4-2 (RL-10) Aerojet Rocketdyne Engine that provides 22,300 lb. of thrust and utilizes liquid hydrogen (LH2) for propellant and liquid oxygen (LOX) as an oxidizer with a burn time of up to 740 seconds to include multiple engine firings. There are also four 27-N (Newton) thrusters and eight 40-N (Newton) thrusters used for attitude control. Both utilize hydrazine as propellant. The Centaur Forward Adapter (CFA) provides structural mountings for vehicle electronics within the spacecraft.

SOLID ROCKET BOOSTERS (SRB’s): Have a diameter of 158 cm (62.2 in) and a length of 20 m (65.6 ft.). The total number of SRB’s utilized is dependent on the individual mission and vary from none at all to 5. They are jettisoned after approximately a minute and a half of flight.

COMMON CORE BOOSTER (CCB) (First-Stage): The American Atlas-V Common Booster Core is 106.5 ft. (32.46 m) in length by 12.5 ft. (3.8 m) in diameter and is powered by a single two-chamber Russian RD-180 engine that utilizes Rocket Propellant-1 (RP-1 or highly purified kerosene) as propellant and Liquid Oxygen (LOX) as the oxidizer. It provides 860,300lb. of thrust at sea level and can burn for 253 seconds. The RD-180 engine is modeled after the 4-chanber RD-170 engines used by the Zenit rocket family.

Watch LIVE: (Webcast begins at 20:00 EDT).


NASA TV Ustream:

ULA Webcast:

AmericaSpace Launch Webcast:

SpaceflightNow Launch Webcast:

MMS Mission Brochure:

AFSPC-5 Mission Overview:


ULA homepage:


Twitter for ULA CEO Tory Bruno:





Atlas V rocket:

Atlas V Users Guide:

Atlas V 400 Series Cutaway:

Atlas V 500 Series Cutaway:

Lockheed Martin Atlas V:


National Reconnaissance Office (NRO):

Patrick AFB (45th Space Wing) (Cape Canaveral):



5th Space Launch Squadron (5th SLS):

Vandenberg AFB (30th Space Wing):




4th Space Launch Squadron (4th SLS):

Air Force Space Command:





Peterson AFB (21st Space Wing):



Aerojet-Rocketdyne Homepage:



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1 Response to Boeing/USAF Space Plane Flies Again in May

  1. Pingback: OTV-4 & LightSail 1 Take Flight | DanSpace77

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