SpaceX will launch next secret X-37 Air Force mission
SpaceX won a contract to launch the Air Force’s secret X-37B uncrewed space plane to orbit for another mission in August. The goal of the mission for the space planes have never been clearly stated by the military but the Air Force defines its primary objectives as a reusable and experiment spacecraft which can be returned to and examined on Earth.
Launch contracts are usually announced about two years before a flight but the Air Force did not disclose the X-37B contract until Tuesday, a mere two months before the flight.
“Shaheen asked Secretary Wilson why the Air Force will not provide funding for the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to study the health effects from contaminants found in drinking water around Haven Hill”.
In large part, securing this type of contract with the US Air Force – the first mission SpaceX will launch for the Air Force – is a huge testament to the work the company has done to introduce Air Force and NASA suggested/mandated upgrades in the Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 rocket.
Because the X-37B program is largely a confidential military endeavor, the financial terms of the SpaceX deal were not revealed, and the company declined to comment.
While we may not know the specifics of the X-37B’s missions, the Air Force has released some general information about the program. The Air Force has two X-37Bs, one of which spent over a year in orbit, finally coming down in 2012. That SpaceX launch is tentatively scheduled for August.
This was seemingly confirmed by the U.S. Air Force Thursday evening, which issued a statement saying, “This mission will be the program’s first launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 Upgrade launch vehicle”. But a Falcon 9 rocket exploded while still on the launchpad during an engine test in 2016 (the massive fireball from the incident was caught on camera).
Among the technologies being tested on the orbiting plane are advanced guidance, navigation and control, high temperature structures and seals, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, and new re-entry and landing capabilities, according to Air Force statements.
Similar in shape to vehicles in the space shuttle program, the Boeing-built craft is created to return to Earth after extended orbital research missions.