After wrapping up a lengthy mission in Earth orbit nearly a year ago, Space Force’s spaceplane is ready to take off again for the seventh flight of the Shuttlesque test vehicle.
The X-37B Mission 7 is scheduled for launch on December 7 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The reusable spaceplane will ride on board a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time for its upcoming orbital test, which will include a number of experiments, according to the U.S. Space Force.
For its seventh mission, the spaceplane will operate in new orbital alignments and carry out experiments with future space domain awareness technologies. The spaceplane will also be carrying a NASA experiment that will expose plant seeds to the harsh radiation environment of long-duration spaceflight in order to build data for future crewed missions.
“The X37B continues to equip the United States with the knowledge to enhance current and future space operations. X-37B Mission 7 demonstrates the USSF’s commitment to innovation and defining the art-of-the-possible in the space domain,” Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, chief of Space Operations at the Space Force, said in a statement.
The Boeing-built reusable vehicle is operated by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the U.S. Space Force. For its previous mission, the spaceplane took off in May 2020 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The uncrewed vehicle spent 908 days in orbit before landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in November 2022, beating its previous record of 780 consecutive days in orbit.
Mission 6 carried two NASA experiments, as well as the Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module experiment by the Naval Research Laboratory, and deployed the Air Force’s FalconSat-8 satellite. The mission also carried a service module that increased the spaceplane’s payload capacity.
The Space Force has shared little information about its test vehicle and has not specified the exact capabilities of its spaceplane. Similarly, China recently launched its own spaceplane on August 4, 2022 under mysterious circumstance, and the test vehicle landed back on Earth’s surface in May.
The uncrewed spaceplane, known as the X-37B, operated by the U.S. Space Force, is set to launch on its seventh mission on December 7. This time, it will ride on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time. The mission will include various experiments, including testing future space domain awareness technologies and exposing plant seeds to the harsh radiation environment of long-duration spaceflight. The X-37B aims to enhance the United States’ knowledge and capabilities in space operations. The reusable vehicle, built by Boeing, spent a record-breaking 908 days in orbit during its previous mission before landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in November 2022. The exact capabilities of the X-37B remain undisclosed by the Space Force.