The Air Force for a decade kept the X-37B in a cloak of secrecy but it is now openly showing it off as a symbol of US space dominance.
"The X-37B is an uncrewed space plane operated by the U.S. Air Force Rapid Response Capabilities Office".
Also referred to as the U.S. Air Force's mini space shuttle, the unmanned X-37B was originally designed for orbital missions lasting only 270 days but continues to break longevity records.More news: NASA head of human spaceflight resigns ahead of crewed SpaceX flight
The X-37B is 29 feet long (nine meters), with a wing span of 15 feet (4.5 meters).
The one just launched features an extra compartment for experiments, including several for NASA. "One of the things that we've learned is the value of reusability, and I think as a Space Force there's a couple things that we're really going to value and reusability is one of those and autonomy is another one". But it could be a while before the X-37 descends from orbit to end its mission with a runway landing. However, a senior vice president for X-37B developer Boeing, Jim Chilton, noted that each mission for the craft has been progressively longer. Sunday launch marks its first under the nascent Space Force.
United Launch Alliance dedicated Sunday's launch to the health care workers and others who are working on the front lines of the pandemic.More news: US tells China not to interfere with its journalists in Hong Kong
Precautions were less evident along area causeways, where spectators parked to watch the Atlas soar.
Before dawn Tuesday, SpaceX will attempt to launch another batch of its Starlink satellites for global internet service.
The huge Atlas V launch vehicle took off with an earth-shaking roar at 9:14 am (13H14 GMT) to loft the drone, also known as an Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), into space. For your security, we've sent a confirmation email to the address you entered.More news: Unemployment Claims in Britain Jumped by 69% in April | coronavirus