The Space Force just launched the mysterious X-37B space plane

Katie Ramirez
May 18, 2020

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) is targeting a liftoff time of 9:14 AM EDT (6:14 AM PDT) today for an Atlas V rockets carrying the Boeing-built X-37B orbital test vehicle on behalf of the USA space force, which is an autonomous winged spaceplane that looks a little like a scaled down version of the Space Shuttle . It was manufactued by Boeing for the Air Force and hitched a ride into orbit on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket.

Space.com noted that the X-37B's new service module, a cylindrical add-on beneath the spacecraft, lets it carry more payloads than before.

"It's a classified mission, and what is classified about it as the details of the vehicle itself, the mission it will do on orbit and where it will do that", he said.

The X-37B program is a partnership between the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the United States Space Force.

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The newly launched has an additional compartment for experiments, including several for NASA and the US Naval Research Laboratory.

The plane will include a sample plate to determine the impact of radiation and other space effects on various materials, as well as an experiment from NASA that will assess the effects of space on seeds used to grow food, the ULA said.

It will also deploy a FalconSAT-8 satellite, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, to conduct tests on orbit. In July, Wilson said the X-37B "can do an orbit that looks like an egg and, when it's close to the Earth, it's close enough to the atmosphere to turn where it is".

A U.S. congressional advisory panel last November compiled a report, urging the Trump administration to "develop a strategy to ensure the United States remains the preeminent space power in the face of growing competition from China". The autonomous spacecraft took off Sunday at 9:14 a.m. ET, about 24 hours after bad weather conditions forced the postponement of the launch on Saturday.

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