US Space Force to Launch X-37B Spy Plane on May 16

The Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, in partnership with the U.S. Space Force, is scheduled to launch the sixth mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6) on May 16 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

USAF to Launch X-37B Spy Plane on May 16
Encapsulated X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle for United States Space Force-7 mission

The plane will be launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The mission is officially called USSF-7.

“In today’s age of electrons, space systems track storms, locate stranded motorists, timestamp credit card transactions, and monitor treaty compliance,” said 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.”

USAF to Launch X-37B Spy Plane on May 16

Experiments are to include studying the effects of space travel on various materials on board, and the effect of space radiation on seeds, Barrett added.

The ability to test new systems in space and return them to Earth is unique to the X-37B program and enables the U.S. to more efficiently and effectively develop space capabilities necessary to maintain superiority in the space domain, U.S. Space Force said in a statement Wednesday.

The X-37B remains a Department of the Air Force asset; however, the U.S. Space Force is responsible for the launch, on-orbit operations, and landing.

“The X-37B continues to break barriers in advancing reusable space vehicle technologies and is a significant investment in advancing future space capabilities,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.

USAF to Launch X-37B Spy Plane on May 16

This will be the first X-37B mission to use a service module to host experiments. The service module is an attachment to the aft of the vehicle that allows additional experimental payload capability to be carried to orbit.

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The mission will deploy the FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory to conduct several experiments on orbit. The FalconSat-8 is an educational platform that will carry five experimental payloads for USAFA to operate.

In addition, two National Aeronautics and Space Administration experiments will be included to study the results of radiation and other space effects on a materials sample plate and seeds used to grow food. Finally, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, will transform solar power into radio frequency microwave energy which could then be transmitted to the ground.

The X-37B program completed its fifth mission in October 2019, landing after 780 days on orbit, extending the total number of days spent on orbit for the spacecraft to 2,865 – or seven years and 10 months.

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