SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket is poised to launch the U.S. Air Space Force’s secretive X-37B spaceplane, according to a recent service press release.
The Space Force’s secretive X-37B space plane, operated by the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office in collaboration with the United States Space Force, is gearing up for its seventh mission, OTV-7, scheduled for launch on December 7, 2023, from Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
Notably, this mission marks a historic milestone as the X-37B will ride atop SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, recognized as the most powerful commercial rocket globally, under the designation USSF-52.
Lt. Col. Joseph Fritschen, the X-37B Program Director, expressed enthusiasm about pushing the boundaries of the spaceplane’s capabilities, stating, “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.”
X-37B Mission 7 aims to conduct experiments that include operating the spaceplane in new orbital regimes, testing future space domain awareness technologies, and exploring the radiation effects on materials provided by NASA. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations, emphasized the groundbreaking nature of these experiments, stating, “The X37B continues to equip the United States with the knowledge to enhance current and future space operations. X-37B Mission 7 demonstrates the USSF’s commitment to innovation and defining the art-of-the-possible in the space domain.”
One noteworthy experiment onboard involves exposing plant seeds to the harsh radiation environment of long-duration spaceflight. Dubbed “Seeds-2,” this NASA experiment builds upon prior successes and contributes to the preparation for future crewed space missions.
The X-37B is the first vehicle since NASA’s Shuttle Orbiter with an ability to return experiments to Earth for further inspection and analysis.
X-37B Mission 6 was a pivotal mission that introduced a service module expanding the spacecraft’s capabilities, enabling it to host more experiments than any previous mission. It carried out experiments such as transforming solar power into radio frequency microwave energy and studying the effects of radiation on materials and seeds for food growth. FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy, was also deployed during this mission.
William D. Bailey, the Director of the DAF RCO, highlighted the collaborative efforts with Boeing and the government team, emphasizing, “The X-37B government and Boeing teams have worked together to produce a more responsive, flexible, and adaptive experimentation platform. The work they’ve done to streamline processes and adapt evolving technologies will help our nation learn a tremendous amount about operating in and returning from a space environment.”