X-37B

X-37B Space Plane Embarks on Classified Mission BLAST OFF: US Military’s Covert Launch

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.

 X-37B
X-37B

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.

Simultaneous Launches: X-37B and China’s Shenlong Space Plane In a closely aligned timeframe, the launch of the X-37B corresponded with China’s Shenlong space plane embarking on its third mission since 2020. The Shenlong, shrouded in secrecy, is presumed to be geared toward low-Earth orbit missions. This synchronized occurrence has been observed as indicative of the escalating space competition between the United States and China, with both countries displaying a heightened interest in each other’s spaceplane advancements.

The U.S. military’s X-37B space plane initiated its secretive mission, anticipated to extend for at least a couple of years. Launched aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the reusable mini space shuttle departed at night, overcoming a delay of more than two weeks due to technical issues. This marks the seventh flight for the X-37B, which has accumulated over a decade in orbit since its debut in 2010.

 X-37B
X-37B

The spacecraft, resembling a miniature version of NASA’s retired space shuttles, executed the previous record-setting flight lasting 2 1/2 years. Operated by the Space Force, this orbital test vehicle’s specific duration and payload details remain undisclosed, aside from a NASA experiment focused on measuring the impact of radiation on materials.

Manufactured by Boeing, the X-37B exhibits a length of 29 feet (9 meters), one-fourth the size of NASA’s shuttles, and features autonomous landing capabilities, eliminating the need for astronauts. With vertical takeoffs and horizontal landings, these space planes orbit between 150 miles and 500 miles high. Two X-37Bs are housed in a former shuttle hangar at Kennedy Space Center.

The clandestine nature of the X-37B program, operated by the U.S. Space Force, has led to various theories regarding its purpose. Some suggest it could be testing advanced reconnaissance or surveillance technologies, while others speculate about its role in developing and testing space-based weaponry or anti-satellite systems. The space community remains intrigued by the X-37B’s missions, eagerly awaiting clues about its activities and the potential advancements it may bring to space exploration and military capabilities.

As the X-37B embarks on its latest journey, observers and analysts will closely monitor any developments or insights that emerge, offering a glimpse into the spacecraft’s undisclosed mission objectives and its contributions to the evolving landscape of space capabilities.

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