US Military's Top-Secret X-37B Spaceplane Begins Seventh Mission Aboard SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket

The U.S. military’s top-secret X-37B robot spaceplane embarked on its seventh mission from Florida, this time on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket that could take it to unprecedented orbital heights.

What Happened: As per Reuters, the event took place on a Thursday evening at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center located at Cape Canaveral. After two weeks of postponements due to unfavorable weather and undisclosed technical issues, the launch was finally successful.

The Falcon Heavy, a rocket with three strapped core engines, has the potential to carry the X-37B into a higher orbit than ever before. This launch comes amidst the escalating space rivalry between the U.S. and China, following the latter’s Shenlong robot spaceplane mission two weeks prior.

The Pentagon has not released much information regarding the X-37B mission, led by the U.S. Space Force under the National Security Space Launch program.

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The Boeing-built vehicle, resembling a small space shuttle, is designed to deploy payloads and conduct technological experiments during extensive orbital flights. At the end of each mission, the vehicle re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere and lands similarly to an airplane.

The Falcon Heavy rocket will potentially transport the X-37B into a geosynchronous orbit, more than 22,000 miles above the Earth. This marks a significant development as the X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, has previously been limited to low-Earth orbits.

This mission includes a NASA experiment to study the effects of space radiation on plant seeds, a crucial step towards long-term space missions and potential colonization.

Why It Matters: SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace company, managed to complete 94 successful missions in 2023, including the most recent X-37B launch. Despite falling short of the ambitious target of 100 launches, the company continues to make strides in space technology and exploration.

Earlier in the same year, Musk revealed the design changes in the new version of the Starship. The new ship version holds more propellant, reduces dry mass, and improves reliability – innovations that could have implications for future missions like the X-37B’s current endeavor.

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Image via Shutterstock

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