Following a delay caused by poor weather, the US Space Force and United Launch Alliance have successfully launched the military’s secretive X-37B space plane. The craft was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida using the Atlas V rocket, sending it off on its sixth space mission. Space Force recently revealed that the space plane is carrying multiple experiments, including some for NASA, though many details on the spacecraft remain a secret.
The Space Force first announced plans to launch the sixth mission in early May, explaining that the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle’s service module will be used to host experiments for the first time. Program Director Randy Walden had called the mission ‘a big step’ for the program, one that has already spent hundreds of days in space.
This time around, Space Force says that its X-37B mission will involve deploying a small satellite called FalconSat-8 on behalf of the US Air Force Academy and Air Force Research Laboratory. That satellite is carrying five experimental payloads for the Academy. As mentioned, the space plane is also carrying some experiments for NASA, ones intended to explore how space impacts seeds.
The military already has a few successful missions under its belt. The X-37B space plane returned to Earth in October 2019 after spending a record-breaking 780 days in space, bringing the collective program total to seven years and 10 months in orbit.
The space plane was launched a bit after 9 AM EDT today following a scrapped initial launch attempt on Saturday. The overall purposes and missions behind the X-37B space plane remain a secret. The program is a continuation of the original X-37 program launched in 1999 and then handed over to DARPA in 2004.