US Space Force’s Not-So-Secret X-37B Spaceplane Roars Into Orbit

The US Space Force’s X-37B spaceplane has launched successfully on its multi-year orbital mission.

At 8:07 pm EST, the unmanned vehicle set atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy booster lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Today’s launch was the second attempt to send up the OTV-7 mission after the original December 7 start date was scrubbed due to technical difficulties.

The evening launch went without incident with the two side boosters shutting down and separating from the booster core at about two minutes and 30 seconds into the flight.

As the side boosters carried out maneuvers for a powered landing back at Kennedy, the core stage continued on into orbit with the main engine cutout at three minutes and 52 seconds.

The second stage separated from the expendable core first stage three seconds later as the second stage engine fired, sending the X-37B into orbit.

According to the Space Force, OTV-7 will carry, in addition to its secret payload, experiments for future space domain awareness technologies and determining the long-term effects of space radiation, including a NASA experiment that will expose plant seeds to hard radiation for a prolonged period of time.