On March 05, 2011at 22:46 UTC the Atlas 5 rocket was launched by United Launch Alliance from Cape Canaveral, California, USA.
photo by United Launch Alliance
The rocket orbited the U.S. Air Force's second top secret X-37B space plane.
The military isn't divulging what the space plane carries, but it could be shepherding high-tech Air Force experiments, spy sensors and other research payloads.
Also called the Orbital Test Vehicle, the program is managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, a division headquartered in the Pentagon. But the X-37's genesis is from NASA. The space agency still provides engineering support for the space plane's thermal protection system.
The X-37's cost and specific mission are top secret, but military officials proudly boast of the space plane's ability to return experiments from space. Shielded by thermal blankets and ceramic tiles, the X-37 is designed to return to Earth on autopilot, line up with the runway at Vandenberg and glide to a pinpoint touchdown.
photo by U.S. Air Force