Boeing-built X-37B space plane goes into orbit for shadowy Space Force test mission

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A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched a Boeing-built X-37B space plane today on a semi-secret orbital mission under the management of the recently created Space Force.

  • Today’s USSF-7 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida came at 9:14 a.m. ET (6:14 a.m. PT), a day after the first attempt was called off due to weather. This is the sixth test flight of an X-37B, the first such flight to have a service module attached to the space plane’s aft, and the first carried out under the Space Force’s banner. ULA dedicated the launch to those affected by COVID-19 as well as first responders and front-line workers.
  • The U.S. military traditionally holds back the details of the X-37B’s classified test missions, while providing information about experiments included aboard the uncrewed mini-space shuttle. This time, the plane is carrying payloads aimed at testing power-beaming technology and gauging the effects of space radiation on seeds for crops — plus FalconSat-8, a small experimental satellite to be deployed in orbit.
  • In a statement, ULA’s vice president of government and commercial programs, Gary Wentz, hailed “the success of this mission.” But it could be a while before the X-37 descends from orbit to end its mission with a runway landing. Past test flights have lasted as long as 780 days.

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