Space Force dedicates mission launch to pandemic workers and victims

Doha Madani and Associated Press

The U.S. Space Force launched a secret mission space plane into the stars Sunday morning, dedicating the flight to front-line workers and victims during the coronavirus pandemic.

A rocket was used to carry the X-37B, a remotely operated space plane that uses solar power, which will orbit the Earth while carrying experiments into space. The launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida, carried two NASA experiments and a small satellite developed by the Air Force, according to the United Launch Alliance, or ULA, which provided the Atlas V rocket.

The mission launched at "truly a unique time in our history," Gary Wentz, ULA's vice president of government and commercial programs, said in a news release Sunday.

"The success of this mission resulted from collaboration with our customer while working through challenging, and ever changing, health and safety conditions," Wentz said. "We were honored to partner with the U.S. Space Force to dedicate this mission to first responders, front-line workers, and those affected by COVID-19."

The U.S. first launched a X-37B plane in 2010, and Sunday marks the sixth time such an aircraft has been sent to space. Its last mission lasted two years.

It is unclear how long this mission will last.

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The plane will include a sample plate to determine the impact of radiation and other space effects on various materials, as well as an experiment from NASA that will assess the effects of space on seeds used to grow food, the ULA said.

It will also deploy a FalconSAT-8 satellite, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, to conduct tests on orbit.