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SpaceX sets December 28 launch date for US military’s X-37B space plane

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Original plan to send spacecraft into orbit was scrubbed due to poor weather conditions in Florida.

SpaceX has said it has earmarked December 28 for the launch of the United States military’s X-37B robot space plane on its seventh mission to orbit.

“Now targeting no earlier than Thursday, December 28 for the Falcon Heavy to launch USSF-52 to orbit from Florida,” SpaceX said in a post on X on Friday, after it delayed the launch earlier this week to perform additional system checks.

The original plan to send the spacecraft to orbit late on Sunday was scrubbed due to poor weather conditions at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The delays came on what was to have been the seventh mission flown by the unmanned X-37B, and its first launch atop a Falcon Heavy, composed of three reusable rocket cores strapped together and capable of lofting the vehicle far higher in orbit than ever before.

Roughly the size of a small bus and resembling a miniature space shuttle craft, the X-37B is built to deploy various payloads and conduct technology experiments in long-duration orbital flights.

Seventh mission

The X-37B has flown six previous missions since 2010, its last flight lasting well over two years before the vehicle’s return landing in November 2022.

The Pentagon has not disclosed what altitude it intends to place the space plane, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, with the coming launch.

But in a press statement last month, the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office said the latest mission would involve tests of “new orbital regimes, experimenting with future space domain awareness technologies”.

The X-37B also was carrying a NASA experiment to examine how plant seeds are affected by long-term exposure to the harsh environment of radiation in space.

The military has not said how long the spaceplane’s latest mission would last, though it presumably will remain in orbit until June 2026 or later if it follows its prevailing trend of successively longer flights.

Space Force General B Chance Saltzman, now chief of space operations, suggested in 2020 that the X-37B may be nearing its final mission, according to the authoritative aerospace journal Air & Space Forces.

Saltzman was quoted by the monthly magazine as saying at that time that the spacecraft might exemplify “technology that has served its purpose and (maybe) it’s time to start looking at the next available capability”.

The X-37B flight will mark the third time it is used by the US government to carry a national security payload into orbit.


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