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U.S. Launches Secretive X-37B Spacecraft

The X-37B, seen here lifting off on its first mission in April 2010.
The United States Air Force has launched into orbit its unmanned reusable spacecraft, whose missions remain secret.

The X-37B, which resembles a smaller version of the space shuttle, blasted off on December 11 aboard an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The air force declined to reveal how long the mission will last or what tasks the drone will perform in orbit.

It was the third launch of an X-37B, which is nearly nine meters long, significantly shorter than the space shuttles.

The craft, controlled by human operators on Earth, orbited for some seven months on its first mission in 2010.

An X-37B spent more than a year in space during the second mission.

The drones are capable of making a runway landing after descending from orbit.

Based on reporting from AFP, AP, and Reuters