Falcon Heavy will launch a space drone for the US military for the first time

The Falcon Heavy rocket will be used for the first time to launch the X-37B space drone into orbit. The launch is scheduled for December 7, 2023.

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

The X-37B was developed by Boeing on the orders 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. In total, two such vehicles were built. Since 2010, they have made six long-term flights into space. The last of them began on May 17, 2020, and ended on November 12, 2022, for a total of 908 days.

For the first decade, the Pentagon kept almost everything related to the X-37B 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 drone.

According to the statement of the US Space Forces, 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.

A distinctive feature of the new flight will be the use of a Falcon Heavy rocket to launch the X-37B for the first time. SpaceX received a USD 130 million contract for this mission in 2018. Then it was assumed that it would be launched in 2021. But in the end, the launch was delayed by two years due to the unavailability of the payload.

It is worth noting that previously, the X-37B was put into orbit exclusively by the Atlas V rocket. However, its production has already been discontinued, and all 17 remaining launches have long been sold. At the same time, the date of commissioning of the Vulcan replacement carrier has already been postponed several times due to various technical problems. At the moment, its first launch is scheduled for the end of 2023.

According to  https://spacenews.com

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