SpaceX to launch a secret spy craft mission for the US Military

SpaceX to launch a secret spy craft mission for the US Military

With Hurricane Irma looming off the Florida coast, SpaceX beat unfavorable weather odds Thursday morning to send the U.S. Air Force's X-37B reusable spaceplane back into orbit for its fifth classified mission.

"Hurricane Irma is forecast to be approximately 950 miles southeast of the Spaceport during Thursday's launch attempt, so while Irma certainly bears watching, it will not be a factor in Thursday's weather", forecasters said in a Tuesday update, noting that thick and cumulus clouds were the primary concerns. Its next launch, an EchoStar delivery scheduled for October, will use one of the refurbished Falcons - the rocket that flew in February to resupply the International Space Station. The Air Force did not disclose whether the secondary payloads riding with the X-37B will deploy from the Falcon 9 rocket itself or from the spaceplane's cargo bay.

ULA CEO Tory Bruno disputes that ULA was even afforded the opportunity to participate in the bidding process, however.

Yes, you read that correctly; this marked SpaceX's 16 overall successful landing of the Falcon 9 (and the seventh on terra firma). While the secretive nature of the Orbital Test Vehicle missions mean that live coverage ended after the first stage landed, this resulted in unbelievable live coverage of the landing, as is now routine. We also don't know how long the X-37B will stay in orbit, although its last mission was almost two years in length (270 days to be exact). Given the secrecy surrounding the X-37B, the webcast cut away from the second stage deployment, allowing the space plane to discretely decouple and head off on its mission. There are only two of the Boeing-built spacecraft, which each measure about 29 feet long with a 15-foot wingspan. Touchdown was near flawless, with the rocket landing directly on the launch pad's SpaceX logo.

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It launched from launch pad 39A, which NASA had once used for Apollo moon missions and many Space Shuttle missions. Additionally the space magazine reported that some aerospace experts believe the Air Force is testing small satellites that could be cheaper than current technologies. Four earlier missions rode United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets launched from Cape Canaveral.

We do know that the experimental program is created to help work out the kinks in reusable spacecraft, and there are two X-37B vehicles, built by Boeing. Other than that, we don't know what the X-37B will be up to, or for how long. She suggested that price was a factor in the Air Force's decision to go with Falcon 9.

The X-37B will glide back to Earth for a runway landing to conclude its mission, likely targeting a homecoming at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, where the OTV-4 mission ended.

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