SpaceX launches hush-hush space plane (probably)

by Garry Watts September 8, 2017, 0:28
SpaceX launches hush-hush space plane (probably)

Falcon 9 rocket is on a mission to launch the U.S. Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) on its fifth mission. The launch is being held at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which makes accounting for weather particularly tricky at the moment.

What's also unclear how long the X-37B will remain in orbit.

The autonomous space craft, blandly called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, is meant to "demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space-test platform".

There's not a whole lot to say about the X-37B, since it involves a highly classified mission. The Air Force did not disclose whether the secondary payloads riding with the X-37B will deploy from the Falcon 9 rocket itself or from the spaceplane's cargo bay.

The exact objective of the X-37B was never revealed and the secrecy surrounding the project has led to speculation that the solar-powered X-37B can be used as a spy satellite or to deliver weapons from space. By comparison, Nasa's retired space shuttles were 122ft long with a 78ft wingspan.

A Falcon 9 carrying the Boeing-built X-37B hidden inside its protective shroud lifted off a 10:00 a.m.

Here is a listing of the X-37B's flight history compiled by Spaceflight Now's Justin Ray.

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Moon said Wednesday that the situation could get out of hand if North Korea's missile and nuclear tests aren't stopped. North Korea's detonation of a hydrogen bomb on Sunday marked its most powerful nuclear test to date.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is gearing up for three more Falcon 9 launches in October.

The Air Force has also not confirmed which of the two X-37B vehicles was launched Thursday.

That launch followed back-to-back wins of the first two Global Positioning System 3 launch contracts the Air Force put out for bid.

SpaceX launches have become something of a routine over the past year or so, but if you think there's nothing interesting about yet another launch being carried out by Elon Musk's stellar startup, you're dead wrong.

According to the forecast by the Patrick #Air Force Base, Irma is expected to reach the area about 900 miles near the launch site during the scheduled take-off.

"Everything proceeded nominally", SpaceX launch commentator Michael Hammersley said.

The booster made a smooth vertical landing at SpaceX's Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral, not far from the launch pad.


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