Air Force’s X-37B Spaceplane Starts Fifth Mission

The U.S. Air Force launched the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle on its fifth mission Sept. 7.

Dodging Hurricane Irma, the Boeing [BA]-built unmanned reusable spaceplane lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at about 10 a.m. Eastern time from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Air Force's X-37B unmanned spaceplane (Photo courtesy of Air Force)

The Air Force's X-37B unmanned spaceplane (Photo courtesy of Air Force)

The X-37B hosts the Air Force Research Laboratory’s second Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader (ASETS-II) payload to test experimental electronics and heat-management technology. The vehicle was also set to deploy experimental cubesats (Defense Daily, Aug. 31).

About eight minutes after liftoff, SpaceX achieved a secondary goal by landing the two-stage rocket’s first stage at the company’s landing zone at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It was SpaceX’s 16th such landing since 2015.

The Air Force's 45th Space Wing oversaw the launch, which was the first time the X-37B has flown on a Falcon 9. The Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office leads the X-37B development program, and Air Force Space Command manages the vehicle's operations.

During its previous four missions, the X-37B spent a total of 2,085 days in orbit. The most recent trip, which ended in May, lasted almost two years.

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