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Secretive US Air Force space plane X-37B back in orbit

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The US Air Force launched its robotic space plane into orbit for a fourth flight on Wednesday aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, in a mission aimed at testing a new engine to steer satellites, officials said.

The rocket carrying the X-37B successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida and officials said the scheduled return of the unmanned plane had yet to be determined.

The mini-shuttle has been shrouded in secrecy and military officers have refused to discuss its purpose. But defense experts have speculated it might be meant for spying from space, fixing broken satellites or even as a space “bomber.”

Captain Chris Hoyler, a spokesman for the US Air Force, told AFP the latest flight was part of efforts looking at the “technical parameters for an affordable, reusable space vehicle.”

The X-37B will be testing a new orbital “thruster system” — which uses electricity and xenon — that could be employed to maneuver satellites in space, officials said.

Asked if the plane could be used for surveillance, Hoyler declined to comment.

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The X-37B payload also includes a NASA experiment, which will study how a range of materials can endure conditions in space. The results could help scientists working on the possible design of future spacecraft.

The last mission for the X-37B in 2014 extended over 674 days but officials never said what the plane was up to.

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Russians to prod Putin on poverty and his personal life as his ratings tank

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Russians are set to ask President Vladimir Putin about growing poverty at home and tensions abroad during an annual televised phone-in Thursday, which comes following a fall in his approval ratings.

The leader is also likely to face a degree of grilling on his personal life, according to questions submitted by the public online ahead of the live show.

Set to be held for the 17th time since Putin came to power in 1999, the show starts at 0900 GMT and usually lasts several hours.

Ahead of the carefully choreographed show, more than one million questions had been submitted, organisers told Russian news agencies.

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Trump could turn on Hope Hicks just like Michael Cohen: Trump family biographer warns

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Trump family biographer Emily Jane Fox explained that she didn't think that the president would turn on long-time aide Hope Hicks, but then again, it was the same thought about Michael Cohen as well.

In a panel discussion about Hicks' testimony during MSNBC's Brian Williams' Wednesday show, Fox recalled that Micahel Cohen once said that he would take a bullet for the president. Once it appeared that Trump would throw him under the bus, Cohen began looking for a way out.

The same scenario seems to be happening with Hicks now.

"She works at new Fox, which is a company run by a Murdoch son," Fox said. "It's a company that's brand new. She's the head of communications there. And there are shareholders who would take issue with the fact that a senior member of this company is being put in this situation and being thrust on the world stage."

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Trump jumped to Speaker Pelosi’s defense in marathon Fox News interview

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In a strange twist, President Donald Trump appeared to defend House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity Wednesday.

Hannity began by saying to Trump that he believes Pelosi has lost control of her own party, as officials like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) continue to call for impeachment.

"I say Nancy Pelosi is the speaker in name only," Hannity told Trump, calling Ocasio-Cortez the real start.

But what Trump said was the unusual point.

"I think Nancy Pelosi probably has control of it, I hear different things, but I think she does," Trump said, appearing to defend the Speaker. "She knows what she's doing. We will see how it all comes out."

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