Space X's Falcon 9 rocket yesterday launched the X-37B into orbit, and landed successfully at the company's ground-based landing site at Cape Canaveral, Florida. This comes as the 16th successful landing of a Falcon 9 post-launch and the seventh successful landing on solid ground. SpaceX offered live coverage of the mission till landing but did not cover the deployment of the X-37B, likely due to the fact that its mission is classified, according to commentators.(See: Space X's Falcon 9 set for first X-37 B launch )
Earlier, there was some uncertainty over the mission due to weather conditions caused by Hurricane Irma, expected to hit Florida this weekend. But the launch did go off as scheduled despite the weather.
The launch, dubbed OTV-5, was a big one for SpaceX as it was the second launch of a national security payload and the first launch of the Boeing-built X-37B. All prior X-37B launches have happened atop Atlas V rockets built by the United Launch Alliance. In June Air Force secretary Heather Wilson confirmed that the X-37B would fly on SpaceX's Falcon 9 for the first time.
The X-37B, which has a wingspan of 15 feet stands not much taller than a person and weighs just 11,000 pounds. But the robotic spacecraft has proved to be a rugged vehicle, having spent nearly six years in space.
The mission is expected to last 270 days, but the Air Force warned in a statement that ''the actual duration depends on test objectives, on-orbit vehicle performance and conditions at the landing facility.''
According to the Air Force's fact sheet, ''the primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.''
According to the Air Force, this mission is aimed at carrying small satellites, ''demonstrate greater opportunities for rapid space access and on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies.''