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US Set to Launch Mysterious Space Plane on Classified Mission

Space plane
X-37B 1, a space plane, sits on the runway after landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility on November 12, 2022. Public Domain

The US Air Force is set to launch a space plane on a classified mission from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Tuesday.

The plane was due to be launched on Monday by a SpaceX rocket, but the company said it was pushing back the launch “due to a ground side issue,” indicating a problem with the rocket’s launchpad or fueling systems, according to a social media post from SpaceX.

The company said it is now working toward lifting off at the next available launch opportunity on Tuesday at 8:14 pm ET.

Resembling a miniature NASA space shuttle with the windows blacked out, the reusable X-37B space plane is set to begin its seventh experimental mission.

It is designed to conduct long-duration experiments in orbit, and its exact capabilities and mission objectives are classified. The X-37B has been launched on six missions to date, with its most recent landing in November 2022 after a record-breaking 908 days in orbit.

Space plane for spy missions?

Some experts have speculated that the USSF craft is used to run spy missions, keep an eye on Chinese space operations, or test reconnaissance systems.

The X-37B can theoretically carry weapons into space, possibly to defend US satellites against anti-satellite weapons. China and Russia have accused the US government of using the craft as a bomber.

This pilotless craft has been performing a range of classified missions for the military since 2010, allowing the group to test new technologies in space. Past missions have demonstrated that the X-37B is a military workshop for new space technologies.

The X-37B can make stealth changes to its orbit, tweaking direction in a hard way for observers to detect. Powered by solar cells with lithium-ion batteries, the plane was orbiting at around two hundred miles high.

In 2015, the US Air Force confirmed that the craft was being used to test a new electric propulsion system. This time, the X-37B mission will involve “a wide range of test and experimentation objectives,” according to the USSF‘s official statement.

China has also sent an experimental spacecraft to space. It stayed in orbit for 276 days and had a special mission to test reusable space technologies.

The spacecraft was unmanned, and it returned to the Jiuquan launch center in northwest China according to its schedule. Although it was first launched in August 2022, the Chinese authorities have not released any details about the craft’s purpose or the technologies it tested.

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