Third Launch of Air Force’s Secretive Space Plane Delayed

The launch of the U.S. Air Force’s Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) has been delayed to Nov. 13. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

The launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 501 rocket has been delayed to no-earlier-than Nov. 13. The payload for this mission is the Orbital Test Vehicle or “OTV.” The delay will allow ULA to review the anomaly that cropped up during the Oct. 4 launch of a ULA Delta IV Medium rocket.

Photo Credit: USAF

The ULA launch team managed to salvage the mission and place the (GPS) II-F satellite into the correct orbit but the launch team wanted more time to analyze the data it retrieved.

A lower-than-normal chamber pressure was observed on the Delta IV RL10 upper stage engine – a similar engine to that utilized in the Atlas V. The version of the RL10 used on the Atlas family of rockets is different than that on the Delta IV, but using an overabundance of caution, the ULA launch team and the U.S. Air Force have postponed launch by two weeks to allow the team to confirm that there will not be a repeat of the problem.

This will mark the third launch of one of the OTV spacecraft. The space plane to be used in the upcoming mission conducted its first orbital mission in April of 2010 and landed in December of that same year. ULA launched the second OTV on March 5, 2011 it landed over a year later on June 16, 2012. The USAF has not revealed what the spacecraft have been doing on orbit, but the first mission has been revealed to have been primarily a test of the vehicle’s heat shield and to see how the OTV handled while it was hypersonic.

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