WASHINGTON — SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launcher successfully delivered the U.S. Space Force’s X-37B test platform into orbit, continuing the vehicle’s experimental and largely classified mission.
The December 28 mission was the seventh launch of the X-37B. The Boeing-built spacecraft serves as a test bed for new technologies for both the Department of Defense and NASA. Its first flight took place in 2010.
“This was a very important mission and our teams worked side by side to ensure a successful launch,” the brigadier general said. Gen. Kristin Panzenhagen, commander of Space Launch Delta 45, said in a statement.
Although details about its mission duration and most of the payloads carried by the X-37B are secret, one of its experiments is a NASA project called Seeds-2, testing how different seeds respond to long-term exposure to radiation in space. The Space Force said in November that the mission would also experiment with “future space domain awareness technologies.”
“These tests are an integral part of ensuring safe, stable and secure operations in space for all domain users,” the service says.
The X-37B’s most recent mission, OTV-6, returned in November 2022. During this mission, the vehicle included a service module that allowed it to carry more experiments than previous iterations. These included the Naval Research Laboratory’s Radio Frequency Photovoltaic Antenna Module experiment – which used solar energy to create radio frequency microwave energy – as well as two NASA projects similar to Seeds.
This mission also included FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the Air Force Academy.
Thursday’s mission was the second to fly on a SpaceX rocket and the first to take off on the company’s Falcon Heavy vehicle. United Launch Alliance’s Altas V rocket flew the first five missions, and the sixth was carried by SpaceX’s Falcon 9.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s emerging space and technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, focusing on the Air Force and Space Force. She reported on some of the Department of Defense’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.
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