Military Spacecraft Launched on Classified Mission

The X-37B orbital test vehicle
The X-37B orbital test vehicle concluded its sixth mission on Nov. 12, 2022 | Image by United States Space Force

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launched a military spacecraft into orbit this week to carry out a secretive mission for the U.S. Space Force.

The rocket, which was carrying the autonomously operated X-37B space plane, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on Thursday for the fifth and final time.

Despite facing a two-week delay due to technical issues, Thursday’s launch was deemed a success, with the rocket propelling the unmanned spacecraft into orbit to carry out its classified multi-year mission, the Associated Press reported.

Since its debut in 2010, the X-37B has taken seven total flights and logged more than 10 years in orbit, per the AP. The last space mission spanned approximately 2.5 years and ended in 2022, with the military plane landing back at the KSC runway.

While the U.S. Space Force would not say how long the X-37B would remain in orbit, AP reported that that craft was carrying a NASA experiment designed to gauge the prolonged effects radiation has on earthly materials.

“The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth,” states an Air Force factsheet reported on by Space.com.

The spacecraft will rest in orbit between 150 miles and 500 miles (240-800 kilometers) above sea level.

Built by Boeing to resemble NASA’s retired shuttles, the spacecraft spans approximately 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.5 feet (2.9 m) tall, has its windows blacked out, and is designed to carefully carry out its missions over its set period in orbit.

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