SpaceX has confirmed the launch date for the seventh orbital mission of the secret United States military’s X-37B robotic space plane. The scheduled launch is on December 28, as disclosed by SpaceX on Friday (Dec 15). The Falcon Heavy rocket is slated to transport the X-37B, designated USSF-52, from Florida. The initial launch plan, set for Sunday (Dec 17), had to be canceled due to unfavorable weather conditions at Cape Canaveral.
The X-37B, an unmanned space test platform for the US Air Force, specialises in conducting experiments and testing diverse technologies in space. The nature of the experiments remains classified, sparking speculation about potential military applications. This mission marks the seventh for the X-37B, and it will be the first time it launches atop a Falcon Heavy, known for its reusability.
Similar to the Space Shuttle concept, the X-37B can autonomously return to Earth after completing a mission, enabling preparations for subsequent launches. The compact design, roughly the size of a small bus, allows for easy maneuverability and accommodates various payloads for experimentation.
The X-37B’s reusability and long-duration orbital flights have been key features since its first mission in 2010. The latest mission, undisclosed in terms of altitude by the Pentagon, will involve testing new orbital regimes and experimenting with future space domain awareness technologies, according to a statement from the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, media reports said.
The X-37B will also carry a NASA experiment to study the effects of long-term radiation exposure on plant seeds in space.
While the duration of the spaceplane’s mission has not been disclosed by the military, it is expected to follow the trend of successively longer flights, potentially remaining in orbit until June 2026 or later.