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The Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Set for 7th Orbital Mission

HomeTop NewsThe Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Set for 7th Orbital Mission

The Mysterious X-37B Space Plane

The secretive United States Space Force X-37B space plane is heading back into orbit for its 7th mission on Sunday, December 10th. This time, the unmanned robotic vehicle will get a boost from a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, allowing it to operate in new orbital regimes not accessible before.

The X-37B orbital test vehicle looks similar to a miniature space shuttle and functions as an experimental testbed platform for advanced technologies. On Sunday evening, it is scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a 10-minute window that opens at 8:14 PM EST.

This marks the first time the enigmatic space plane has launched atop SpaceX’s powerful Falcon Heavy booster. The added lift capacity allows the X-37B to reach higher orbits than feasible with the Falcon 9 rocket used on its last mission or Atlas V rockets used previously.

The classified nature of X-37B flights means little is disclosed about the vehicle’s activities and purpose in low Earth orbit. The U.S. Space Force typically keeps operational details under wraps, given the space plane’s role in testing experimental technologies with potential military and intelligence applications.

On the upcoming OTV-7 mission, experiments are said to include space domain awareness technologies and investigating the radiation effects on NASA materials. However, most specifics remain unknown to the public.

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Unraveling the Mystery of X-37B Flights

The Boeing-built X-37B created intrigue within space circles since its first launch in 2010. Although its classified operations and temporary disappearances between sporadic spottings kept its true activities concealed, amateur satellite trackers occasionally photographed the vehicle.

Over six flights so far, the 29-foot long robotic space plane has logged a total of 3,774 days in orbit. It functions like a miniature reusable shuttle, designed to land autonomously on a runway. This lets it return science experiments and test articles back to Earth for further evaluation once missions complete.

On previous flights, civilian experiments are known to have focused on areas like:

  • Harnessing solar power in space and transmitting it to Earth
  • Testing how organic materials withstand prolonged space exposure
  • Validating lightweight structure technologies

However, the vehicle’s primary objectives always centered on testing advanced technologies with defense and intelligence applications in the space domain.

Bridging Military & Civilian Space Development

According to Secretary Frank Kendall from the U.S. Air Force, “This seventh flight of the X-37B continues to demonstrate the innovative spirit of the United States Space Force.” He reiterated that missions help ensure safe and responsible operations in space for all users.

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The X-37B provides a bridge between classified military space development and open civilian space efforts. Technologies proven successful on X-37B flights have transferred and benefited NASA exploration programs in the past.

As the United States seeks to expand infrastructure in orbit and return humans to the Moon, experimental testbeds like the X-37B remain vital for pushing the boundaries of what’s achievable. Their missions advance key technologies for operating farther in space and across evolving orbital regimes.

Sunday’s planned launch atop a Falcon Heavy rocket unlocks new test environments. This can accelerate research aims by orders of magnitude compared to remaining constrained on traditional launch vehicles.

Expanding the Space Plane Fleet

Given the X-37B’s usefulness for testing technologies in space, the U.S. Space Force expanded the fleet with a second space plane vehicle in 2020. More vehicles translate to increasing the pace and ambition for advancing defense space capabilities.

With two X-37Bs now in the mix for alternating missions, no longer must experiments wait years between flights for demonstration opportunities. This creates a more robust, resilient platform for unveiling new systems rapidly.

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It also grants mission planners more flexibility in tailoring upcoming flights for demonstrating specialized technologies or pushing operational envelopes even farther in some dimension.

The longer an advanced space plane remains in orbit, the more insights it can gather on technology robustness over substantially extended timeframes. This builds confidence for transforming those systems eventually into long-duration capabilities.

A Bright Future in Orbit

Although the X-37B’s orbiting whereabouts disappear for long intervals once in space, its influence continues growing. This newest mission kicks off 2023 on a high note for space technology ambitions and hints toward a bright future in orbit.

The extra lift muscle from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy opens new possibilities that the Space Force aims to take full advantage of this round. As the enveloping shroud of secrecy continues limiting public knowledge of activities performed, critical space technologies undoubtedly expand behind the scenes.

Humanity’s expansion into space depends greatly on successes unlocked by vehicles like the X-37B each flight. Where its next innovative leaps propel operational capabilities forward remains captured wholly in wait for the seventh mission’s return.

Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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