SpaceX on Thursday launched the Air Force’s super-secret technology tester space shuttle capable of spending years in orbit.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the robotic X-37B lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was the fifth flight for X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, a crewless mini-shuttle.
It is a super-secret space drone that can orbits the Earth for months, even years, at a time.
“The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth,” the Washington Post quoted Air Force as saying.
“The launch took place as the Pentagon sounds the alarm about the importance of defending the ultimate high ground should war break out in space,” reported the Washington Post after the successful launch.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/qmIjpZyhsP— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 7, 2017
The two Air Force space planes have already logged a combined 5 years in orbit. But officials won’t say what the spacecraft are doing up there. The last mission lasted almost two years and ended with a May touchdown at the runway formerly used by NASA’s space shuttles. The first one launched in 2010.
As has become customary, SpaceX landed its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral for eventual reuse.
This was the first time SpaceX has provided a lift for the experimental mini-shuttle. The previous missions relied on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rockets. Air Force officials said they want to use a variety of rockets for the X-37B programme, to launch quickly if warranted.
The Boeing-built mini-shuttle is 29 feet long, with a 14 foot wingspan. By comparison, NASA’s retired space shuttles were 122 feet long, with a 78-foot wingspan.
(With PTI inputs)