SpaceX to launch US military’s X-37B space plane on December 28

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket topped with the U.S. Space Force's X-37B space plane stands on the launch pad ahead of a planned December 2023 liftoff. (Image credit: SpaceX)
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket topped with the U.S. Space Force’s X-37B space plane stands on the launch pad ahead of a planned December 2023 liftoff. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’s Rescheduled Launch for X-37B on December 28

SpaceX has announced a new date, December 28, for the launch of the U.S. military’s X-37B plane on its seventh mission. Originally scheduled for December 11, the launch was delayed due to a ground equipment issue. The delay is now set to last for 17 days if the Falcon Heavy launches on December 28 as planned.

The Falcon Heavy is expected to carry the X-37B into orbit from Florida. The initial launch attempt on Sunday was canceled due to unfavorable weather conditions at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

This mission marks the seventh overall for the X-37B, a 29-foot-long spacecraft used by the military for testing new space technology. Unlike its previous missions, this launch will be the first atop a Falcon Heavy, a powerful rocket composed of three reusable rocket cores strapped together.

The X-37B, resembling a miniature space shuttle, is about the size of a small bus. It is designed for long-duration orbital flights, deploying payloads, and conducting technology experiments.

In the past, the X-37B has completed six missions since 2010, with its last flight lasting over two years before its return landing in November 2022.

Details of the Mission and Experimentation Onboard

The specific details of the upcoming mission, such as the intended altitude and duration, have not been disclosed by the Pentagon. However, the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office mentioned that the mission will involve tests of “new orbital regimes” and experiments with future space domain awareness technologies.

Notably, the X-37B is also carrying a NASA experiment to study how plant seeds are affected by prolonged exposure to space radiation.

While the military has not specified the duration of the spaceplane’s latest mission, it is expected to remain in orbit until June 2026 or later, following its trend of successively longer flights.

Space Force General B Chance Saltzman suggested in 2020 that the X-37B might be approaching its final mission, stating that it could represent technology that has served its purpose, and it might be time to explore new capabilities.

This mission will be the third time the X-37B is used by the U.S. government to carry a national security payload into orbit. The Falcon Heavy, the second-most powerful rocket currently in operation, has launched eight times to date, including four times in 2023, with its most recent launch sending NASA’s Psyche probe toward the asteroid belt in October.

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Source(s): Al Jazeera; Space

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