Falcon Heavy put a secret spaceplane into orbit

On December 29, SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon Heavy rocket. It put the X-37B spaceplane into orbit.


The X-37B was developed by Boeing at the request of the American Air Force. It has a length of 8.9 m, a height of 2.9 m, and a wingspan of 4.5 m. The spacecraft is launched into orbit using a rocket, and when returning to Earth, it lands like an airplane. The take-off weight of the spaceplane is 5 tons, and it is equipped with a cargo compartment that can accommodate up to 900 kg of payload. 

The X-37B spaceplane after landing. Source: Spacenews.com

In total, two such vehicles have been built, which have completed six long-term space flights since 2010. The last one began on May 17, 2020, and ended on November 12, 2022, lasting a total of 908 days.

For the first decade, the Pentagon kept almost everything related to the X-37B a secret. But in recent years, this approach has changed significantly, and the military has begun to share details of the tasks performed by the once-secret spaceplane.

According to a statement from the US Space Force, a wide range of tests will be conducted as part of the upcoming flight. These include the operation of the X-37B in new orbital modes, experiments with space control technologies, as well as studies of radiation effects on materials and plant seeds provided by NASA. 

Launch of X-37B

This was the first time a Falcon Heavy was used to launch the X-37B. Prior to that, Atlas V or Falcon 9 rockets were used for such missions. Initially, the seventh X-37B mission was supposed to begin on December 10, but the launch was postponed several times due to problems with the rocket and bad weather. 

Launch of the Falcon Heavy with the X-37B spaceplane. Source: John Kraus

The launch took place in normal mode. Two Falcon Heavy side boosters returned to the spaceport, the central stage was used in a one-time configuration. The parameters of the orbit that the X-37B is placed in are kept secret. But according to satellite spotters, it has a large inclination. 

Earlier, we talked about how China launched its X-37B counterpart.

According to https://spacenews.com

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