SpaceX successfully launches mysterious X-37B spaceplane and recovers first stage

Camille Francis
September 8, 2017

SpaceX has launched the US Air Force's super-secret space shuttle, a technology tester capable of spending years in orbit.

The lift off is scheduled from the Kennedy launch pad when the Cyclonic hurricane Imra is just 900 miles southeast of Florida, putting the mission at risk.

Following the launch, SpaceX landed the rocket's first stage at a nearby on-shore landing zone, marking the 16th time Elon Musk's pioneering space company has recovered one of its rockets.

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

While we don't know how long the X-37 will stay in orbit, launching on a SpaceX rocket means the mission will eventually pass a spaceflight milestone: It'll be the first time almost every part of a rocket that left Earth will land itself. The company has also signed two separate deals - valued at a combined total of $183.7 million - over the past two years to launch Global Positioning System satellites into orbit for the Air Force.

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USAF officials said they want to use a variety of rockets for the X-37B programme to launch quickly if warranted. For comparison, the space shuttles were 122 feet (37 m) long, with 78-foot (24 m) wingspans. Touchdown was near ideal, with the rocket landing directly on the launch pad's SpaceX logo.

Previous X-37B launches had been performed by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. A deployable solar panel generates electricity for the mini-shuttle, and it does not rely on hydraulics for its aerosurfaces, unlike NASA's space shuttles, which were limited to missions lasting several weeks. X-37B's fourth mission set an endurance record, racking up 718 days in orbit before landing in early May at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

The fifth mystery mission of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane is now underway.

Publicly, the Air Force says the X37-B is a testing platform for advanced technologies for spaceflight, but few details have ever been provided. "It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community". Boeing houses and prepares the X-37B spaceplanes for launch inside former space shuttle hangars near the space center's huge Vehicle Assembly Building. She suggested that price was a factor in the Air Force's decision to go with Falcon 9.

China invites Pakistan Foreign Minister for talks after BRICS meet
China has also supported Pakistan on Kashmir issue. "It means that a big part of Afghanistan is a safe haven". Pakistan will be very upset. "All this said, I don't think this will lead to any policy shifts in Pakistan".

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