The U.S. Air Force has launched an unmanned spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida for a mission shrouded in secrecy.

In a statement, the Air Force said the X-37B orbital test vehicle was launched atop a rocket late Thursday. The craft is a robotic space plane that resembles a small space shuttle.

The Air Force says the craft is designed to provide a platform for experiments to be performed while in orbit, though it gave no details of those experiments or what the craft is carrying in its payload bay.

Air Force Colonel Andre Lovett said in the statement the launch helps ensure that U.S. war fighters will be provided the capabilities they need in the future.

The space plane can stay in orbit up to nine months, but the Air Force would not say how long it will be in space.  

The craft can be landed remotely.  It is expected to land at a California Air Force base at the end of its mission.


Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.