Sunday, February 25, 2024

U.S. Space Force prepares to launch mysterious X-37B space plane

The Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, in partnership with the United States Space Force (USSF) and SpaceX, is preparing to launch the seventh mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. The X-37B Mission 7 is scheduled to launch on December 10, 2023, from Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Two X-37B vehicles, both of which were built by Boeing, have flown a total of six missions to date, each one longer and more ambitious than the last.

The seventh mission, also known as OTV-7 (Orbital Test Vehicle-7), will be the first to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket – designated USSF-52 – with a wide range of test and experimentation objectives. These include operating in new orbital regimes, experimenting with space domain awareness technologies, and investigating the radiation effects of NASA materials.

These tests are crucial to ensuring safe and responsible operations in space for all users of the space domain. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall has praised the mission, saying that “this seventh flight of the X-37B continues to demonstrate the innovative spirit of the United States Space Force.”

The X-37B, which first launched in April 2010, has so far accumulated a total of 3,774 days in space across its previous missions. These missions have successfully experimented with various technologies, including Naval Research Laboratory technology designed to harness solar energy and transmit power to the ground, testing the effects of long-duration space exposure to organic materials for NASA and providing an opportunity to launch a spacecraft designed and operated by cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The Space Force has not released many details about the X-37B mission. Even in the past, most of the payloads carried by spaceplanes have remained classified, and this flight is not expected to be any different.

However, it is known that the X-37B is primarily used as a testbed for new technologies, which includes some novel reconnaissance instruments. Along with the military equipment, some civilian research cargo is also carried by the X-37B. For instance, NASA’s Seeds-2 experiment is scheduled to go up on this flight to study the effects of space radiation on seeds over an extended period.