Science

SpaceX and the US Space Force set to launch a covert X-37B space plane on December 10

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The robotic vehicle is expected to be launched on Sunday, December 10, at 8:14 p.m. EST by a Falcon Heavy rocket.

The enigmatic X-37B spacecraft of the United States Space Force is almost prepared for its seventh flight.

In an email update sent out today, Dec. 7, Space Force officials stated that they and SpaceX “are making final preparations” for the scheduled Sunday evening (Dec. 10) launch of the robotic X-37B.

The spacecraft is slated to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a Falcon Heavy rocket during a 10-minute window that begins at 8:14 p.m. EST on December 11 (0114 GMT).

It is thought that the Space Force is in possession of two X-37B aircraft, both of which were produced by Boeing. The spacecraft bear a striking resemblance to NASA’s former space shuttle orbiters, despite their significantly reduced size—both X-37Bs could fit within a single space shuttle’s payload bay.

So far, the two X-37Bs have completed six missions, each one more ambitious and lengthier than the last. After orbiting the planet for 908 days, the most recent one, dubbed OTV-6 (Orbital Test Vehicle-6), made landfall in November 2022.

The duration of the upcoming OTV-7 flight is unknown; the Space Force discloses little information about X-37B missions because the majority of their payloads are classified. Some of this gear may be new reconnaissance instruments; military officials have long maintained that the X-37B serves primarily as a testing ground for new technologies.

However, the X-37B also transports some cargo for civilian research. For example, NASA’s Seeds-2 project, which will test the effects of long-term space radiation exposure on seeds, is one of the unclassified experiments scheduled to launch on OTV-7.

The most recent X-37B mission was carried out on a SpaceX Falcon 9, while the previous five missions were launched atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets. The first to employ the potent Falcon Heavy will be OTV-7.

The Heavy has completed eight missions so far. The last launch occurred in October, directing NASA’s Psyche spacecraft in the direction of the peculiar Psyche metal asteroid.

Raeesa Sayyad

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