Atlas V rocket launches Air Force X-37B space shuttle from Cape Canaveral
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts an Air Force X-37B space shuttle to orbit from Cape Canaveral on Saturday, May 17, 2020.
United Publishing Alliance
After the Space Force’s robotic X-37B orbital test vehicle relaunches Sunday night, what kinds of classified payloads will it carry into space?
What unclassified military space plane performs more than 150 to 500 miles above Earth’s surface?
That’s how long the black-and-white miniature space shuttle will stay in orbit — its last marathon flight lasted 908 days.
“It’s a test platform that allows us to collect data in a relatively controlled environment in the cargo bay of the space plane, the X-37B, over a period of time in orbit and see how well those sensors perform. They’re immune to the radiation environment of space,” Titusville said. said Dan Platt, director of the Spaceport Graduate Center at the Florida Institute of Technology.
“Then they can bring it back to Earth for further study — that’s a huge advantage of putting a satellite into orbit and collecting data from it, because at the end of the mission, you usually have no way to get that satellite back,” Platt said.
“So, I think it’s really, really, a test bed for new technology so we can see how it works. And one of the reasons the space flight has been around for more than a year is because they can build a good-sized database. The performance of that technology and how it’s been in space for a long time. Exposure to the environment,” he said.
At 8:14 p.m. EST Sunday, a triple-core SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to carry the Boeing-built, 29-foot-long X-37B into orbit for its seventh secret mission.
Will SpaceX attempt to launch its next Starlink mission Sunday night from the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station? wait The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has issued a rocket launch intrusion warning in effect from 11 p.m. Sunday until 3:31 a.m. Monday — reflecting the times of the latest Falcon 9 launches. But SpaceX has yet to make a public announcement.
More details on Sunday’s X-37B mission:
- Launch window: 10 minutes.
- Location: Pad 39A.
- Booster landings: Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
- Live Streaming: Starts 90 minutes before departure at floridatoday.com/space.
Further: A mysterious military X-37B space plane is set to launch from Kennedy Space Center on Falcon Heavy
“We have almost completed pre-launch operations for our next national defense space launch, the third Falcon Heavy to be used to launch a national defense payload,” Brig. Gen. Christine Bunsenhagen, commanding the space launch pad Delta 45, said in a press release Thursday.
“Our team has done an amazing job preparing for this important launch, and we’re doing even more behind the scenes. We’re improving our processes to make our launch capabilities even more responsive to national security needs,” Panzenhagen said.
After separation, the Falcon Heavy’s twin boosters will trigger the Space Coast’s sonic booms as it returns to terra firma at Landing Zones 1 and 2 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Space Force officials declined a request for further comment on Sunday’s mission. The Nov. 8 press release summarizes that the spacecraft will perform “a variety of sophisticated experiments”:
- Operating reusable spaceflight in new orbital regimes.
- Testing future space field awareness technologies
- Studying the effects of intense radiation on plant seeds provided by NASA, collecting data for future long-duration space missions.
“If we recall, in the early days of the space shuttle — certainly before the Challenger disaster — the military had top-secret space shuttle missions. Of course, they only lasted about two weeks,” Platt said.
“But this could be a prelude to this kind of capability that we can do with our new technology in a robotic fashion, without the need for humans,” he said.
The X-37B was last launched in May 2020 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. During that mission, the spacecraft conducted a Naval Research Laboratory photovoltaic radio-frequency antenna module experiment; two NASA experiments studying radiation effects; and FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the US Air Force Academy and funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory.
The autonomous space plane spent a record 908 days in low-Earth orbit before ending its mission in November 2022 — and sent sonic booms across Central Florida before touching down at KSC’s launch and landing facility.
“One more thing: Traditionally, spaceflights have had low g-forces during reentry. So it’s good for any sensitive technology that might be damaged during reentry in a capsule with a high amount of g-force. The atmosphere will come back down to Earth,” Platt said.
For latest release schedule updates on Cape, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
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