Launch of X-37B Spacecraft Further Delayed by SpaceX for US Military

  • Launch Delay: SpaceX postpones Falcon Heavy rocket launch carrying X-37B space plane due to a ground-side issue, rescheduled for Tuesday evening.
  • X-37B’s Mission Goals: The secretive space plane aims to advance space operations, conduct experiments, and explore new orbital regimes.
  • Research Onboard: X-37B carries NASA’s Seeds-2 experiment, focusing on sustaining astronauts on deep-space missions by exposing plant seeds to harsh radiation.
  • New Orbital Regimes: The mission involves operating the spaceplane in deeper orbital regimes, potentially reaching the “cislunar regime” beyond Earth’s gravitational dominance.
  • Falcon Heavy’s Role: This launch marks the first time X-37B uses SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket, providing increased thrust and power.
  • Spaceplane’s History: The X-37B, resembling a miniature space shuttle, has completed six prior uncrewed missions, spending over 3,700 days in space, advancing reusable spaceplane technologies.
Launch of X-37B Spacecraft Further Delayed by SpaceX for US Military
Launch of X-37B Spacecraft Further Delayed by SpaceX for US Military (Image: Smithsonian Magazine)

SpaceX has shared that the launch of the X-37B spacecraft for the US Military, known as mission ‘USSF-52,’ is facing a delay. Initially planned for December 7, the launch was rescheduled for December 10, 2023, but is further postponed due to a “ground side issue.”

The launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, scheduled for at least Tuesday evening, is now delayed. This setback affects the latest mission involving the secretive X-37B robotic spacecraft, a project cloaked in mystery as part of the US military’s exploration of the cosmos.

The X-37B, a robotic spacecraft resembling a smaller NASA space shuttle, equipped with opaque windows, was ready for liftoff on Monday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. However, SpaceX announced on Monday evening that the launch is postponed due to a “ground side issue,” suggesting potential complications with the rocket’s launchpad or fueling systems, as per a social media post from SpaceX.

The company is actively addressing the issue and aims for the next available launch window on Tuesday at 8:14 p.m. ET.

X-37B’s Seventh Mission: Unveiling Space Secrets for Future Exploration

Embarking on its seventh experimental mission, the X-37B is a crucial asset for the United States, helping with experiments to improve space operations and explore space capabilities. General B. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations for the US Space Force, says the space plane gives the US valuable insights into enhancing space operations and advancing technology.

Even though many X-37B missions are secretive, the US Space Force has revealed some goals for this uncrewed mission. One significant task is carrying a NASA experiment called Seeds-2. This experiment aims to figure out how to sustain astronauts during long space journeys by exposing plant seeds to the harsh conditions of space radiation. This builds on previous research done during X-37B missions.

Other experiments include testing the reusable spaceplane in new orbital regimes, trying out future space domain awareness technologies, and studying the effects of radiation on materials provided by NASA. “Orbital regimes” refer to specific areas of space influenced by gravitational forces, like the “geocentric regime” dominated by Earth’s gravity or the broader “solar regime” where the sun has the most gravitational influence.

The mention of “new orbital regimes” suggests the X-37B might go into deeper space than before, maybe even reaching the “cislunar regime,” which includes Earth and the moon. This ongoing mission shows how important the X-37B is for advancing our understanding of science and military capabilities in the world of space exploration.

Continuing Advancements in Space Exploration

The upcoming launch will signify the inaugural occasion of the space plane hitching a ride aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy – a momentous event given the rocket’s status as the briefly reigning most powerful operational rocket globally following its debut in 2018.

Distinguished by its distinctive appearance akin to three of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets conjoined, the Falcon Heavy boasts enhanced thrust and power through the inclusion of two boosters on each side.

It’s noteworthy that the X-37B has previously embarked on missions utilizing the SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle and the Atlas V rocket, the latter being a product of United Launch Alliance, a collaborative effort between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

The Falcon Heavy, surpassing the combined thrust of both the Falcon 9 and the Atlas V, now takes center stage as the chosen launch vehicle for the upcoming mission.

The latest mission of the X-37B spacecraft, an autonomous vehicle, began recently, and it’s uncertain how long it will orbit Earth this time. In the past, each X-37B flight has lasted longer than the previous one.

The spacecraft’s last mission wrapped up in November 2022, completing nearly 909 days in space. During this sixth mission, the X-37B carried experimental technology from the US Navy aimed at converting solar energy and transmitting it to the ground.

In August 2020, the X-37B received the prestigious Robert J. Collier Trophy for aerospace achievements, surpassing even the Hubble Space Telescope. Notably, this spaceplane, described as sophisticated and unmanned, plays a key role in advancing reusable spaceplane technologies and conducting experiments in space. The results of these experiments are brought back to Earth for further analysis.

Barbara Barrett, the secretary of the US Air Force, highlighted the X-37B’s significance, stating, “Sophisticated and uncrewed, the X-37B advances reusable spaceplane technologies and operates experiments in space that are returned for further examination on earth.”

Having already accumulated more than 3,700 days in space from previous uncrewed missions, the X-37B continues to contribute to space exploration and technological advancements.

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Source(s): CNN

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