Fourth X-37B flight a month away from launching

File photo. Credit: Air Force
File photo. Credit: Air Force

CAPE CANAVERAL — The U.S. Air Force on Friday made its first public confirmation that the X-37B unmanned space shuttle will be launched next month on the fourth flight of an Orbital Test Vehicle.

“We are excited about our fourth X-37B mission,” said Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.  “With the demonstrated success of the first three missions, we’re able to shift our focus from initial checkouts of the vehicle to testing of experimental payloads.”

The Air Force said its Rapid Capabilities Office had collaborated with several partners to test “new experiments on this fourth flight for the X-37B program.”

What’s more, the mission will test the performance of an experimental propulsion system jointly developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Space and Missile Systems Center, as well as a NASA advanced materials investigation.

“We’re very pleased with the experiments lined-up for our fourth OTV Mission OTV-4,” Walden said. “We’ll continue to evaluate improvements to the space vehicle’s performance, but we’re honored to host these collaborative experiments that will help advance the state-of-the-art for space technology.”

The liftoff atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is slated for May 20, some time during a period of 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT.

The X-37B program completed its third mission on Oct. 17, landing after 675 days on-orbit. The program has totaled 1,368 days spent on-orbit.

“The accomplishments of the program were recently recognized with the 2015 Space Foundation Achievement Award and the announcement by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics of their 2015 Foundation Award for Excellence,” the Air Force press release said.

See our earlier launch coverage.