Boeing (NYSE: BA ) has announced that an unmanned, reusable U.S. Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle was returned to orbit Tuesday aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The launch was done for the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office, according to United Launch Alliance. Boeing's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle "combines the best of aircraft and spacecraft design in an unmanned test platform," according to Boeing. It is "testing reusable vehicle technologies dealing with space experimentation, risk reduction and concept-of-operations development."
This week's launch marks the second successful trip to orbit for Boeing's OTV-1 vehicle, which first launched back in April 2010. It is the United States' first unmanned vehicle to return from space and land on its own. Another craft, dubbed OTV-2, has also made one orbital trip, setting a record 469-day mission in space in June of this year.
Paul Rusnock, vice president of Boeing Government Space Systems, in a press release pointed to the X-37B's viability in the new frontier of private space launches, saying, "The second mission for OTV-1 demonstrates the vehicle is capable of multiple missions and affordable access to space."
Boeing is one of several companies pushing into orbit. SpaceX's Dragon capsule became the first private spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station back in May, while Orbital Sciences (NYSE: OA ) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT ) have also engaged in commercial and defense-focused space ventures recently.