SpaceX Falcon Heavy will launch the X-37B spaceplane Sunday night at KSC

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After the Space Force’s X-37B robotic orbital test vehicle launches again Sunday night, what kinds of secret payloads will it carry into space?

What secret missions will an unmanned military spaceplane accomplish at an altitude of 150 to 500 miles above the Earth’s surface?

How long will the miniature black-and-white space shuttle stay in orbit, considering its last marathon flight took 908 days?

“It’s a test bed that allows them to collect a bunch of data in a relatively controlled environment in the cargo bay of the spaceplane, the X-37B, over a period of time in orbit and see how well those sensors perform, how well those sensors perform,” said Don Platt, director of Florida Institute of Technology Spaceport Graduate Center in Titusville: “They’re immune to the radiation environment of space.”

“Then they can bring it back to Earth for further analysis — which is a huge advantage compared to just launching a satellite into orbit and collecting data from it. Because at the end of the mission, you typically have no way to do that.” “Give that satellite back,” Platt said.

“So, I think it’s really a test bed for the new technology so they can see how it performs. That’s one of the reasons the spaceplane has been around for more than a year, because they can build a good-sized database on Earth.” “The performance of that technology and exposing it to the space environment for a long period of time.”

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At 8:14 PM EDT on Sunday, a triple-core SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and carry the 29-foot-long Boeing-built X-37B into orbit on its seventh secret mission. .

Will SpaceX also attempt to launch the next Starlink mission Sunday night from nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station? Stay tuned. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency issued a navigational warning for rocket launches from 11pm on Sunday until 3:31am on Monday – reflecting recent Falcon 9 launch times. But SpaceX has yet to make a public announcement.

More details about Sunday’s X-37B mission:

  • Launch window: 10 minutes.
  • location: Pad 39A.
  • Booster landing: Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
  • Live coverage: Starts 90 minutes before takeoff at

more: The mysterious X-37B military spaceplane will lift off on a Falcon Heavy aircraft from Kennedy Space Center

“We have almost completed pre-launch work for our next national security space launch, the third Falcon Heavy rocket used to launch a national security payload,” Brig. Gen. Christine Banzenhagen, who commands Space Launch Delta 45, said in a press release Thursday.

“Our team has done a great job preparing for this important launch, and we are doing more behind the scenes. We are improving our processes to make our launch capabilities more responsive to national security needs,” Banzenhagen said.

After the separation phase, Falcon Heavy’s dual boosters will fire sonic booms onto the Space Coast by returning to solid Earth at Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Space Force officials declined a request for further comment on Sunday’s mission. A November 8 press release briefly stated that the spaceplane would enable “multiple advanced experiments,” such as:

  • Operating reusable spacecraft in new orbital systems.
  • Experiment with future space awareness technologies
  • Investigating the effects of harsh radiation on plant seeds provided by NASA, and collecting data for future long-duration manned space missions.
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“If we remember, in the early days of the Space Shuttle — and certainly before the Challenger disaster — the military had top-secret shuttle missions,” Platt said. “And of course, those missions were only two weeks long.”

He added: “But perhaps this was a precursor to the kind of capabilities that can now be achieved using our new technology in an automated way, without the need for humans.”

The X-37B was last launched in May 2020 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. During that mission, the spacecraft carried the Naval Research Laboratory’s electro-optical radio frequency antenna module experiment; Two NASA experiments to study the effects of radiation; and FalconSat 8, a small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

The self-piloted spaceplane spent a record 908 days in low Earth orbit before concluding its mission in November 2022 — generating sonic booms across central Florida before touching down at KSC’s Launch and Landing Facility.

“One more thing: Traditionally, spaceplanes have low G-forces during reentry. So this is a good thing for any sensitive technology that might be damaged when they return in a capsule that has a higher level of G-forces during their return. The atmosphere will come back down to Earth,” Platt said. “.

For the latest Cape launch schedule updates, visit

Rick Neil He is Florida Today’s space correspondent (for more of his stories, click here.) Call Neale at 321-242-3638 or [email protected]. Twitter/X: @Rick Neal1

Space is important to us, which is why we work to provide the highest coverage of industry and launch operations in Florida. Such journalism requires time and resources. Please support him by subscribing here.

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