The US Air Force has launched a new solar-powered prototype shuttle on a top secret mission.
The US military sent the experimental vehicle, known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, into space for a nine-month test flight.
The Boeing-built miniature orbiter blasted off aboard an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral. It is the second ship to be put in space under the military's top secret X-37B program.
Like OTV-1, which returned from a 224-day mission in December, all information on what OTV-2 will do in orbit, as well as any cargo or experiments that may be aboard, is classified.
The new spacecraft are smaller versions of Nasa's current shuttles such as Discovery, which are soon to be permanently retired. Unlike the existing orbiters the one-third scale shuttles are not designed to carry astronauts.
The experimental vehicles are solar-powered. It is thought that they are intended to examine new technologies and processes that will allow for more affordable and quicker-turnaround spaceships.
Once fully operational, the shuttles could be used for a variety of missions including reconnaissance, in-space service and repair of satellites, deploying and retrieving spacecraft, and demonstrating new technologies, the US Air Force said. telegraph.co.uk