Title: U.S. Military’s X-37B Spaceplane Set to Embark on Seventh Mission, Utilizing SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket
The U.S. military’s secretive spaceplane, the X-37B, is gearing up for its seventh flight, which will mark a momentous occasion as it launches into orbit for the first time using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. The highly-anticipated launch is currently scheduled for no earlier than December 7 and will take place at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Operated by the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office in partnership with the U.S. Space Force, the X-37B spaceplane aims to expand its capabilities and conduct groundbreaking experiments for the Department of the Air Force and its collaborators. This particular mission, previously referred to as USSF-52, seeks to explore new orbital regimes, although specific details remain undisclosed. Previous X-37B missions have been limited to low Earth orbit.
One of the key experiments to be conducted during the upcoming flight, known as OTV-7, is called “Seeds-2.” This study will examine the effects of radiation on plant seeds during prolonged spaceflight. Additionally, the mission will evaluate future space domain awareness technologies, reinforcing safe and secure operations in space.
The X-37B program has a record of progressively longer missions, yet the duration of this upcoming flight has not been revealed. The previous flight, which launched in May 2020 and successfully landed in November 2022, featured a service module for extra experiments and a satellite from the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Interestingly, there are two spaceplanes under the X-37B program; however, it is uncertain which one will be utilized for this mission. What is known is that the launch contract with SpaceX holds a value of $154,726,072.
Beyond the X-37B mission, SpaceX and NASA are also planning to reuse the Falcon Heavy side boosters for the Europa Clipper mission scheduled for October 2024. This innovative approach demonstrates the growing reliance on reusable technology.
As the launch date approaches, anticipation is building among space enthusiasts as they eagerly await the next phase of the X-37B program. The collaboration between the U.S. military, SpaceX, and NASA represents a significant step forward in pushing the boundaries of space exploration and fostering cutting-edge technological advancements.