Tuesday, 17 October, 2017

SpaceX Rocket Launches X-37B Space Plane on Secret Mission, Aces Landing

3 2010 image by the Vandenberg Air Force Base shows technicians examining the X-37B unmanned spaceplane shortly after landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base California SpaceX preparing for launch of mini spy space shuttle for US Air Force despite Hurricane Irma warning
Carlton Santiago | 08 September, 2017, 00:42

SpaceX has launched a top-secret shuttle from the Kennedy space centre in Florida, pre-empting the onset of category five Hurricane Irma. The four or more weeks between launches at LC-39A will hopefully provide SpaceX enough time to deal with whatever complications Hurricane Irma brings, and will also provide plenty of breathing room for the team of engineers working to reactivate launch pad LC-40.

"The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force", the military branch's website says.

This marks the first time that SpaceX was granted the opportunity to use its Falcon 9 to launch the X-37B, and it shows that the has confidence in the rocket's reliability rating.

The Falcon 9 lifted off cleanly at 1000 local time (1300 GMT), and the first stage separated a couple of minutes later.

Yes, you read that correctly; this marked SpaceX's 16 overall successful landing of the Falcon 9 (and the seventh on terra firma).

While X-37B's mission has been tentatively scheduled to last 270 days, the Air Force has said that could change depending on the testing progress, how the vehicle performs in orbit and conditions at the landing facility.

The X-37B, which looks somewhat like a miniature version of the retired Space Shuttle, has a wingspan of just under 15 feet and weighs around 11,000 pounds.

SpaceX has pulled off some exhilarating launches and landings in the past, but today's mission ranks among its most suspenseful. The last mission, which ended in May, spent a record-breaking 718 days in space. The fourth flight was launched in May 2015 by United Launch Alliance, a SpaceX rival that is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The X-37B, built by Boeing, is an uncrewed vehicle, but resembles the Space Shuttle on a smaller scale.

Artist's concept of the X-37B spaceplane in orbit. She suggested that price was a factor in the Air Force's decision to go with Falcon 9.

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