The United States Air Force is sending the X-37B space plane back to orbit for a record-breaking sixth time.
The X-37B space place will fly towards its usual Low Earth Orbit. After completing its record-breaking fifth mission last year, the plane is once again set to make another shot at history.
The launch will take place on May 16. As with all of its previous launches, it will happen at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
There is a little difference though. All the plane’s previous missions were conducted by the Air Force. However, the newly formed United States Space Force will head the upcoming launch.
A long history of service
The X-37B came into commission in 2010. The space serves a platform for any experimental, and often classified payloads.
The plane’s activities and missions are so secret that not even a single one has been disclosed to the public. Up until its last voyage in 2019, the plane has a record of 780 days in orbit. That record is 240 days longer than originally planned.
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle breaks record with 780 days in orbit after landing at @NASAKennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility at 3:51 a.m.
— U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) October 27, 2019
The upcoming missions of the X-37B are known only as Orbital Test Vehicle-6 (OTV-6) and the U.S. Space Force-7 (USSF-7). Unlike previous missions, the Space Force is clear about what the upcoming X-37B mission will be.
The U.S. Space Force says that the space plane’s main task is to check and assess the various effects of cosmic radiation. The division adds that the space plane will also check the effects of space on plant seeds and other material samples.
The official mission manifest is still classified. However, officials have hinted what the space plane will carry into orbit. For its sixth mission, the X-37B will carry the FalconSat-8 satellite.
Upgrades and improvements
The X-37B has a number of upgrades and improvements under its hood. For one, a new service module has been added to the aft of the space plane. This upgrade will allow the plane to carry additional payloads.
In a statement, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett says:
“Demonstrating the department’s innovation, this X-37B mission will host more experiments that any prior missions. This launch also demonstrates the department’s collaboration that pushes the boundaries for reusable space systems.”
The project to design and build the X-37B is a joint effort between Boeing and NASA. The original plan is to make two spacecraft. However, due to lack of funding, the project was only able to finish one.
Image courtesy of United States Air Force/Wikimedia Commons