X-37B Space Plane Launches on Classified Mission Aboard SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket
X-37B Space Plane Commences Classified Mission with Falcon Heavy Rocket In a clandestine endeavor, the U.S. military’s X-37B space plane initiated another mission set to span multiple years. Launched atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, December 28, 2023, the spaceplane embarked on a covert mission, albeit encountering a more than two-week delay due to technical challenges. Resembling a mini space shuttle, the reusable aircraft, designated for unmanned flights, will carry out classified experiments as part of the U.S. Space Force’s National Security Space Launch program. The mission aims to test new orbital regimes and advancements in space domain awareness technologies.
The X-37B’s departure from Kennedy Space Center coincided with China’s Shenlong space plane’s third mission since 2020. While both space planes share an aura of secrecy, they represent the intensifying space race between the United States and China. The Shenlong, which has been in operation since 2020, is believed to focus on low-Earth orbit deliveries. The synchronized timing of these missions underscores the escalating competition between the two nations in the realm of spaceplane technologies. As they pursue advancements in their respective programs, the strategic implications for national security and scientific research in space become increasingly apparent.
Implications of X-37B Launch: A Historic Step with Falcon Heavy This launch marked a historic moment as the X-37B embarked on its mission aboard the powerful Falcon Heavy rocket, suggesting potential higher orbital capabilities. Designed for extended orbital journeys and hosting diverse payloads and experiments, the spacecraft boasts autonomous landing akin to an airplane after completing its mission. While the specific duration of the ongoing mission remains undisclosed, it aligns with the trend of progressively extended flights, possibly stretching until June 2026 or beyond. The program’s prior mission, lasting over two years, established a duration record. These missions underscore substantial strides in reusable space technologies, emphasizing the pivotal role of space in both national security and scientific research endeavors.