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What We Know About The Secretive Space Plane SpaceX Just Launched

What We Know About The Secretive Space Plane SpaceX Just Launched

What We Know About The Secretive Space Plane SpaceX Just Launched

Despite the Category 5 Hurricane Irma raging in the Atlantic Ocean, SpaceXsuccessfully launched U.S. Air Force's X-37B, the Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5) payload from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, September 7 at 10:00 am EDT. One of the goals with this launch was basically just to prove SpaceX as a viable launch option, which Boeing says will help ensure the flexibility and continued viability of the X-37B for experimental use. It's also the first time the company is launching the Boeing-built X-37B.

At the end of each X-37B mission, the winged craft glides down from space to a horizontal runway landing. This particular vehicle has spent at least 2,000 days in orbit.

What exactly the X-37B does up in space is classified military information, although for this flight, it will carry an experiment called the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader (ASETS-II) in its pickup-bed-sized payload bay. A deployable solar panel generates electricity for the mini-shuttle, and it does not rely on hydraulics for its aerosurfaces, unlike NASA's space shuttles, which were limited to missions lasting several weeks. USA officials have never publicly specified what business the X-37B is engaged in while it's circling the Earth but it has been logging missions since 2010. The X-37B is going to a higher inclination orbit than usual but the X-37B's main mission is classified and is being fiercely guarded. The first four missions were launched atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket.

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You can watch a livestream of the launch and landing attempt below. An SES official said the launch date will depend on Hurricane Irma's impact on the Space Coast, and engineers are taking precautions to safely store the satellite during the storm.

"Everything proceeded nominally", SpaceX launch commentator Michael Hammersley said.

As has become customary, SpaceX landed its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral for eventual reuse.

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