Photos: Atlas 5 and X-37B mated together for upcoming launch

CAPE CANAVERAL — The Air Force’s miniature space shuttle and its ride to orbit have been joined together inside an assembly building at Cape Canaveral in preparation for launch May 20.

The X-37B spaceplane will be boosted into space atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, flying in its 501 varient with a big payload fairing and no solid boosters.

Stacking of the 196-foot-tall rocket was completed Thursday as crews hoisted the payload, already encapsulated in its 18-foot-diameter nose cone, into position aboard the Centaur upper stage.

The spaceplane, also known as an Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, had been prepared for flight at a separate facility. It is carrying at least two experiments — a NASA materials exposure investigation and an Air Force electric propulsion thruster test.

The fully assembled Atlas vehicle will be rolled out aboard its mobile launch platform from the Vertical Integration Facility to the pad at Complex 41 on May 19.

It will be the fourth flight of an X-37B into orbit. Atlas 5 rockets have launched the three previous flights as well.

See our earlier launch coverage.

Photo credit: United Launch Alliance