Weather conditions (see below Launch Delays) are favorable for Thursday’s launch of the X-37B reusable unmanned orbital test vehicle into space aboard an Atlas V booster from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., Air Force officials said Tuesday. “It is great to see the X-37 finally get to the launch pad and get into space,” said Gary Payton, USAF’s civilian space czar, during a media teleconference. The X-37B has the capacity to remain on orbit for up to 270 days, but Payton said the Air Force isn’t sure exactly how long it will be up there for the inaugural mission. While it will carry some experimental, classified payloads in its internal bay, this mission’s “top priority” is to assess the on-orbit performance of the autonomous vehicle itself and then gauge the turnaround time needed after it lands in California to get it ready for its next space jaunt, he said.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.