TechThe Enigmatic X-37B plane soon to embark on its seventh mission

The Enigmatic X‑37B plane soon to embark on its seventh mission

Unmanned shuttle X-37B
Unmanned shuttle X-37B
Images source: © United States Air Force | Michael Stonecypher

8:14 PM EST, November 11, 2023

The American spaceplane, X-37B, is gearing up for its seventh mission in space. Scheduled for an early December launch, this cutting-edge machine will be launched into space aboard SpaceX's mighty Falcon Heavy rocket. The mission, designated as USSF-52, is anticipated to be in line with previous ones, where X-37B played the role of a test platform, launching experimental payloads and returning them to Earth.

The USSF-52 mission is set to take off on December 7. The Falcon Heavy rocket will usher the X-37B spaceship into space from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A report from the U.S. Space Force confirms that this will mark the inaugural utilization of the Falcon Heavy rocket to launch the X-37B, as previous missions relied on the marginally smaller Falcon 9 rocket.

Exploring Space through American experiments

The Americans elaborate that the X-37B will conduct an array of tests and experiments in space. These include "servicing the reusable spaceplane in novel orbital regimes, testing future technologies to boost awareness in space domains, and investigating the radiation effect on NASA-supplied materials."

"We are enthusiastic about the potential of broadening the functionalities of the X-37B reusable spacecraft. Using a proven service module coupled with the Falcon Heavy rocket, we can steer a variety of novel experiments for the Department of the Air Force and its allies," said Lt. Col. Joseph Fritschen, Program Director of X-37B.

According to the report, Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations, branded these experiments as "groundbreaking". He elaborated, "The X-37B consistently provides the United States with the insights required to refine current and future space operations. Mission 7 of the X-37B exemplifies USSF's dedication to innovation and mapping new boundaries in space exploration."

The Enigma Surrounding the X-37B Plane

The technologically advanced X-37B remains shrouded in mystery. Precise details about its capabilities and the spaceplane itself are scarce. One established fact is that this reusable spacecraft undertakes missions that span several months. For instance, the latest mission, which concluded on November 12, 2022, clocked an impressive 908 days in space, setting a new milestone for this space vehicle. The X-37 development program took off at NASA in 1999, initially intending to build two separate vehicles. Eventually, a single vessel was developed, with the program being handed over to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2004.

Ever since the take-over of the program by the American government agency responsible for the development of military technology, the program has been classified. The X-37B was engineered by Boeing and made its debut flight in 2010. The aircraft is approximately 29 feet long, and 9.5 feet tall, with a wingspan of around 15 feet. It has an estimated payload of 500 pounds and a maximum launch weight of roughly 11,000 pounds. The X-37B is powered by solar cells and can operate at an altitude of about 150 to 500 miles.

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