X-37B spaceplane launched for sixth secretive mission
The US Air Force's not-so-secret X-37B spaceplane has successfully launched on its sixth mission, OTV-6 (USSF 7). On May 17, 2020, at 13:14 GMT, the unmanned, autonomous spacecraft lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a specially modified Atlas V 501 rocket.
Built by Boeing, which also provides mission support, the X-37B has flown on five previous missions, with each progressively longer in duration. The last one, OTV-5, lasted 780 days before a landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Though it is currently operated by the US Space Force, it remains a US Air Force asset.
According to Boeing, OTV-6 is the first time the X-37B has been equipped with a service module, allowing it to carry additional payloads. These include the US Air Force Academy's FalconASAT-8 small satellite, which will be deployed later this year to test electromagnetic propulsion, two NASA experiments to study the effects of radiation and other space effects on various materials and food crop seeds, and a Naval Research Laboratory investigation on how sunlight can be converted into microwaves as a means to beam power from orbit to the ground.
"The X-37B has shifted the paradigm and redefined efficiency in space development," says Jim Chilton, Boeing Space and Launch senior vice president. "The rapid technology advancements enabled by the program will benefit the entire space community and influence the next generation of spacecraft design."