SpaceX Rocket Launches X-37B Space Plane on Secret Mission, Aces Landing

SpaceX Rocket Launches X-37B Space Plane on Secret Mission, Aces Landing

The company's focus will likely immediately switch to preparing the company's many Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center facilities for Hurricane Irma, expected to make landfall on the East coast of Florida sometime late Saturday or early Sunday.

The Falcon 9 has now returned to its launchpad at Cape Canaveral in the 16th successful return of a first-stage booster, and the seventh to take place on solid ground.

We do know that the experimental program is created to help work out the kinks in reusable spacecraft, and there are two X-37B vehicles, built by Boeing.

What's also unclear how long the X-37B will remain in orbit. OTV-1 lifted off in April 2010 and logged 224 days in orbit; OTV-2 launched in March 2011 and spent 468 days in space. The four X-37B missions to date flew in orbits tilted between 38 and 43.5 degrees to the equator, but the next one will reach higher latitudes on each lap around Earth. For comparison, the space shuttles were 122 feet (37 m) long, with 78-foot (24 m) wingspans.

It will also attempt to land the first stage of the rocket on land for reuse. Every previous flight of the X-37B began with an Atlas V launch from United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The Air Force's X-37B, or Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV).

SpaceX launches have become something of a routine over the past year or so, but if you think there's nothing interesting about yet another launch being carried out by Elon Musk's stellar startup, you're dead wrong.

Another Falcon 9 rocket is due for launch October 4 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with the third batch of 10 next-generation voice and data relay satellites for Iridium.

Although much is dependent on the weather as Hurricane Irma is expected to be around at the time of the launch.

The two Air Force space planes have already logged a combined 5 ½ years in orbit.

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