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Air Force’s Secretive Space Plane Passes 600 Days In Orbit

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An Atlas V rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral at night. (Photo By Getty Images)

An Atlas V rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral at night. (Photo By Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – 600 days and counting…that’s how long the Air Force’s super-secret unmanned space plan has been orbiting the planet…and there’s no sign the mission will end any time soon, reports Space.com.

The X-37B space plane is like a mini Space Shuttle. It was launched into orbit with an Atlas V rocket on December 11, 2012. By the end of the day Friday, it had spent 627 days in orbit: one year, 8 months 19 days and counting.

The unmanned, reusable spacecraft gets its power from the sun, using solar panels.

“The Air Force continues to push the envelope of the solar-powered X-37B capabilities,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

She tells Space.com it’s likely the spacecraft holds a cargo of top secret sensors and satellite hardware.

“While the classified nature of the X-37B has raised some concerns about its intended operational purposes, technically, the program must be commended for doing something new, and successfully,” Johnson-Freese said.

This is the 3rd and longest mission for the X-37B.

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