US prepares secretive X-37B space plane for mission six
A secretive space plane developed by the US Air Force is being readied for another outing, with the department today announcing the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle’s sixth mission will kick off on May 16. The classified vehicle’s upcoming expedition will see a new emphasis placed on onboard experiments, following a record-breaking 780-day flight that came to an end last October.
Like all of its previous five flights, there is an element of mystery surrounding the primary objective of the X-37B’s sixth mission. We do know that the reusable spacecraft will carry a FalconSat-8 small satellite to orbit packed with five experimental payloads for the US Air Force.
Also onboard will be an experiment for the US Naval Research Laboratory to explore how solar power can be transformed into radio frequency microwave energy, which could in turn be relayed to the ground. Two NASA payloads will also travel aboard the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, built to study how radiation and space affects seeds and other materials.
“In today’s age of electrons, space systems track storms, locate stranded motorists, timestamp credit card transactions, and monitor treaty compliance,” says Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett. “Demonstrating the department’s innovation, this X-37B mission will host more experiments than any prior missions. This launch also demonstrates the department’s collaboration that pushes the boundaries for reusable space systems.”
To accommodate these experiments, the X-37B has been fitted out with a dedicated service module, which is fitted to the aft of the plane and allows for extra payloads to be carried to orbit.
"This sixth mission is a big step for the X-37B program," said Mr. 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."
Mission six for the X-37B is slated to launch on Sunday May 16 from Cape Canaveral.
Source: US Space Force
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