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Mysterious space drone to be launched by Space Force

The Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 5 successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility, Fla., Oct. 27, 2019. The X-37B OTV is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. (US Air Force/Released)
December 11, 2023

The United States Space Force is expected to launch its X-37B unmanned drone Monday night after weather issues caused the Space Force to delay its original launch plan.

“Now targeting Monday, December 11 for Falcon Heavy’s launch of the USSF-52 mission, with weather conditions forecasted to improve to 70% favorable for liftoff on Monday night,” SpaceX posted on X, formerly Twitter. “The team will use the time to complete additional pre-launch checkouts.”

According to The New York Post, the Space Force’s mysterious X-37B drone was initially expected to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Sunday night; however, the launch was postponed due to intense storms on the East Coast.

Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron provided a report that estimated only a 40-percent chance for a successful launch of the X-37B on Sunday. By waiting to launch Monday Night, SpaceX, which is owned by Elon Musk and first secured the $130 million contract to launch the military’s drone in 2018, estimated a 70-percent chance of a successful launch, according to The New York Post.

SpaceX is currently scheduled to launch the X-37B into space with the Falcon Heavy rocket at 8:14 p.m. from the Kennedy Space Center on Monday.

“We are excited to expand the envelope of the reusable X-37B’s capabilities, using the flight-proven service module and Falcon Heavy rocket to fly multiple cutting-edge experiments for the Department of the Air Force and its partners,” Lt. Col. Joseph Fritschen, program director of the X-37B, stated.

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Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman described the upcoming experiments of the X-37B as “groundbreaking.”

“The X37B continues to equip the United States with the knowledge to enhance current and future space operations,” Saltzman said. “X-37B Mission 7 demonstrates the USSF’s commitment to innovation and defining the art-of-the-possible in the space domain.”

The U.S. military noted that the tests conducted by the unmanned drone will be performed with “future space domain awareness technologies. According to The New York Post, some experts believe that the military’s statements regarding the X-37B could mean that the drone will be used to track satellites launched by U.S. adversaries.

In a previous statement to Congress, Saltzman explained, “Our space systems are threatened by a variety of growing anti-satellite capabilities, and the joint force is threatened by increasingly sophisticated adversary space-based systems intended to target the joint force.”

The Space Force also noted that NASA will conduct an experiment with the X-37B to “expose plant seeds to the harsh radiation environment of long-duration space flight.” The experiment is expected to build upon previous experiments and is expected to help with future space missions.

According to The Washington Post, while the X-37B is expected to launch further into space than it has on previous missions, the Space Force has not yet provided an explanation regarding the change.

Brian Weeden, director of program planning for Secure World Foundation, told The Washington Post, “The US government is in this weird place where they brag publicly about how amazing it is and cutting-edge, but will not provide any information about it.”