Thursday, September 7, 2017

US Air Force's X-37B Space Plane to Launch on Secret Mission Sept. 7

The U.S. Air Force's enigmatic space drone — the X-37B space plane  — is heading for a Sept. 7 liftoff, according to military officials.

In an Air Force Space Command statement, officials with the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office said they are undergoing final launch preparations for the fifth mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) program. The Air Force has two robotic and reusable X-37B space planes, and has flown both twice.

"The many firsts on this mission make the upcoming OTV launch a milestone for the program," said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said in the statement. "It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community." [The X-37B Space Plane: 6 Surprising Facts]

For the first time in the program's history, the unpiloted space plane will launch on a privately built SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Four previous X-37B missions were all lofted by United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rockets. ULA is a joint venture by Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Late last week, the Falcon 9 booster that will launch the X-37B space plane was test-fired, according to SpaceX.

Also, the fifth mission, dubbed OTV-5, will be launched into, and landed from, a higher-inclination orbit than in prior missions "to further expand the X-37B's orbital envelope," according to the Air Force statement.

Continue Reading at ... 

Update - Launch Has Been Successful

The launch vehicle used was SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which took off from the company’s LC-39A launch facility at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday morning at 10 AM ET (7 AM PT). The Falcon 9 deployed the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, as the payload is officially called, and then its first stage booster returned to Earth for a planned recovery at Cape Canaveral Air Force base via SpaceX’s LZ-1 landing pad. The goal was to get the launch up before the arrival of Hurricane Irma, and they succeeded.