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The US military’s secretive X-37B spaceplane has embarked on its seventh mission from Florida, utilizing a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket for a high-orbit launch.
The nighttime launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center was broadcast live, showcasing the Falcon Heavy’s power, comprised of three rocket cores.
The US Space Force oversaw the mission under the National Security Space Launch program, with the Boeing-built unmanned X-37B set to conduct a series of experiments in space. While its exact altitude remains undisclosed, the mission aims to explore “new orbital regimes” and test space domain awareness technologies. Additionally, it will investigate the effects of prolonged exposure to space radiation on plant seeds.
With no official end date, the X-37B’s mission could extend until June 2026 or beyond, following the pattern of its progressively longer flights. The last mission set a record at 2 1/2 years.
This mission comes on the heels of China’s Shenlong spaceplane launch. General B Chance Saltzman of the Space Force noted the strategic timing of the US and Chinese launches, acknowledging a “mutual interest” in each other’s space capabilities.