December 11, 2012, MSNBC

An Atlas 5 rocket sent the Air Force’s X-37B mini-shuttle on its first repeat flight on [December 11], kicking off a months-long classified mission reportedly aimed at testing advanced spy satellite sensors. One-fourth the size of the real space shuttle, the X-37B has captured the imaginations of everyone from amateur satellite trackers to potential military rivals. The X-37B can orbit Earth for months, then re-enter the atmosphere and land autonomously. Each of the first two X-37B missions ended with the mini-shuttle landing on a runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Two different X-37Bs were flown for those missions, but this marks the first time that the 29-foot-long, Boeing-built craft has been reflown in space. The X-37B’s reusability is one of its big selling points. The Air Force has not publicly discussed what the space plane will be doing.

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