On Wednesday, the US Space Force announced its second launch since becoming the newest branch of the American military in December: the liftoff into orbit of the X-37B space plane on May 16 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The autonomous spacecraft lifted off Sunday at 9:14 a.m. ET, some 24 hours after poor weather conditions forced the launch’s postponement on Saturday.
Barbara Barrett, secretary of the US Air Force, which has been overseeing the X-37B program, announced the liftoff on her Twitter page, calling the mission “a prime example of government-industry partnerships enhancing National Security Space.”
The uncrewed spacecraft, which looks like a mini space shuttle, has been a secretive Air Force project for years, staying in orbit for up to two years per flight and doing who knows what. This first X-37B flight under the Space Force comes with a new window into some parts of the mission.
Barrett said the space plane will be deploying a small satellite called FalconSat-8, carrying several experiments on behalf of the Air Force, NASA and US Naval Research Lab. Among other things, the experiments will look at the effects of radiation on seeds and transforming solar power into frequencies that could be transmitted to the surface.
Barrett announced the next flight of the X-37B during a livestreamed event hosted by the Space Foundation, alongside the Space Force’s Chief of Space Operations, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond.
“This will be the first X-37B mission to use a service module to host experiments,” Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said in an accompanying release.
X-37B maker Boeing on Wednesday tweeted a short video showing the space plane going through its paces.
The first Space Force launch took place in March, when a national security communications satellite blasted off from Cape Canaveral.
The US Space Force got its first push in an aside by President Trump during a speech in 2018, and it was formally established in December 2019. The first new branch of the US armed forces in decades, Space Force comes under the supervision of the secretary of the Air Force.
The last X-37B mission ended in October when the space plane — there are two of them — landed after 780 days in orbit. In total, over the course of five missions, the two orbital vehicles have spent seven years and 10 months (or 2,865 days) circling Earth.