CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The secret space plane known as X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle was expected to launch this weekend on its first mission under the newly formed U.S. Space Force from Cape Canaveral.
Although its main mission is a secret, there are some details the Space Force isn’t keeping hush-hush, including the launch date and one of its payloads.
United Launch Alliance will launch the spacecraft, which resembles a small space shuttle, on an Atlas V rocket Saturday from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Air Force weather officers were predicting a 40% chance of good launch conditions. There is a system the National Hurricane Center is monitoring in the Atlantic that could produce some scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms, which is a concern. If there is a 24 hour delay conditions improve to 80% because that low will be moving up the coast, according to the 45th Weather Squadron.
The launch would have the sixth flight of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle and the fourth launched aboard an Atlas V rocket.
The space plane serves as an experimental test platform to demonstrate technologies in space for the U.S.
On this particular spaceflight, it would have been the first time a service module would have been used to host onboard experiments. The module is attached to the spacecraft and allows for more payload capability.
“This sixth mission is a big step for the X-37B program,” said Randy Walden, director and program executive officer for the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. “This will be the first X-37B mission to use a service module to host experiments. The incorporation of a service module on this mission enables us to continue to expand the capabilities of the spacecraft and host more experiments than any of the previous missions.”
In another first for X-37B, FalconSAT-8, a satellite designed and built by cadets with the U.S. Air Force Academy, was on board.
Several cadets who worked on the spacecraft traveled to Cape Canaveral to deliver, test and integrate the satellite with the space plane.
“FalconSAT-8 is an educational platform for cadets," Lt. Col. Dan Showalter, assistant astronautics professor at the Academy, said in a news release. "We perform technology demonstrations for the Air Force.”
FalconSAT-8 will carry five experimental payloads, and members of the Cadet Space Operations Squadron will operate the satellite.
The last time X-37B launched on a mission it spent 780 days in orbit, a new record for the spacecraft. The space plane has spent a total of 7 years and 10 months in space spread out between its previous five missions, according to the U.S. Space Force.
As for launching amid the coronavirus pandemic, the mission has been “deemed critical to perform during this pandemic," according to the U.S. Space Force.
Personnel working during the launch are following health guidelines, including wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distance while on console and using virtual meetings when possible, according to the 45th Space Wing.
This story first appeared on WKMG. Click here to view the article in its original format.