Secret shuttle in orbit after Atlas V launch

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. —

For a time on Tuesday it appeared the X-37b Space Plane would remain on the ground at Cape Canaveral air Force Station. But, shortly after the launch window opened, the clouds parted for the military's mini-shuttle and its top secret mission.

The unmanned shuttle was carried into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The rocket launched from launch complex 41. Launch commentary ended 17 minutes into the undisclosed mission.

This is the second flight for this particular Air Force mini-shuttle, making it a milestone of sorts for the X-37b.

"A space vehicle has launched, returned to Earth and then launched again," said Christa Bell, a representative from United Launch Alliance.

Jim Hale is an Air Force veteran and volunteer.

"We're so used to seeing the big shuttle and we thought these reusable vehicles were over and done with, and now we have a whole new generation of reusable vehicles," said Hale.

Unlike two previous mini-shuttle missions that touched down at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, this one may end where it started: on the space coast and with a landing on the shuttle runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.