1202px X 37 spacecraft artists rendition
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center / Public domain

The US Air Force on Sunday successfully launched its high-tech drone X-37B, which is called highly secretive mission. Launched on an Atlas V rocket, the lift-off placed the reusable unmanned drone into orbit for its sixth secretive mission in space. The autonomous spacecraft X-37B was lofted into orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The drone will deploy a small research satellite dubbed FalconSat-8, to carry out additional experiments, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett, which has been overseeing the X-37B program, explained earlier this month.

Weighing 300 pounds, the FalconSat-8 satellite is the size of a small refrigerator and carries high-tech gear, including an experimental thruster to propel it through space and a cutting-edge antenna that will test whether new, compact antenna designs can work as well in space as their larger cousins.

x 37b

“This X-37B mission will host more experiments than any prior missions,” said Barrett, who also heads the recently created US Space Force.

The liftoff was announced by Barbara Barrett on her Twitter profile page –

Began as a NASA project in 1999, the X-37 is now operated by the United States Space Force for orbital spaceflight missions intended to demonstrate reusable space technologies. It is a 120-percent-scaled derivative of the earlier Boeing X-40.

The unmanned and robotic spacecraft, which looks like a mini space shuttle, has been a secretive Air Force project for years. It is a reusable robotic spacecraft boosted into space by a launch vehicle, then re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and lands as a spaceplane.

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History

In 1999, NASA selected Boeing Integrated Defense Systems — a division of The Boeing Company responsible for defense and aerospace products and services — to design and develop an orbital vehicle.

Built by the California branch of Boeing’s Phantom Works, the X-37 was transferred from NASA to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on 13 September 2004. Phantom works is the advanced prototyping arm of the Boeing Company that develops advanced military products and technologies, many of them highly classified and secretive.

Between year 1999 and 2003, a total of US$192 million was spent on the project, with NASA contributing $109 million, the U.S. Air Force $16 million, and Boeing $67 million. In late 2002, a new $301-million contract was awarded to Boeing as part of NASA’s Space Launch Initiative framework.

Previous Launches of X-37

According to the Wikipedia page, the X-37’s first mission was launched in April 2010 and returned to Earth in December 2010. A second X-37 was launched in March 2011 and returned in June 2012. The third mission was launched in December 2012 and landed in October 2014. The fourth mission was launched in May 2015 and landed in May 2017. The fifth X-37 mission, which is the longest X-37 to date, was launched on 7 September 2017 and landed back to the Earth on 27 October 2019 after 780 days in orbit.

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