SpaceX launches Air Force's super-secret minishuttle This undated photo provided by the U.S. Air Force shows an X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. An unmanned Falcon rocket that carried one of these experimental planes blasted off Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. (U.S. Air Force via AP/SpaceX via AP)
SpaceX launches Air Force's super-secret minishuttle
Lexile

SpaceX launched the Air Force's super-secret space shuttle last Thursday, equipped with a technology tester capable of spending years in orbit.

The unmanned Falcon rocket blasted off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center, as schools and businesses boarded up for Hurricane Irma.

It's the fifth flight for one of these crewless minishuttles, known as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.

The two Air Force space planes have already logged a combined 5 1/2 years in orbit, but officials won't say what the spacecraft are doing up there. The last mission lasted almost two years and ended with a May touchdown at the runway formerly used by NASA's space shuttles, while the first one launched in 2010.

As has become customary, SpaceX landed its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral for eventual reuse.

This was the first time SpaceX has provided a lift for the experimental minishuttle. The previous missions relied on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rockets. Air Force officials said they want to use a variety of rockets for the X-37B program, to launch quickly if warranted.

The Boeing-built minishuttle is 29 feet long, with a 14-foot wingspan. By comparison, NASA's retired space shuttles were 122 feet long, with a 78-foot wingspan.

SpaceX stopped providing details about the X-37B's climb to orbit, a few minutes after liftoff at the Air Force's request, but the booster's return to SpaceX's landing zone at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was broadcast live.

"The Falcon has safely landed," a SpaceX launch controller announced as cheers erupted at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

It was SpaceX's 16th successful return of a first-stage booster which are normally discarded at sea.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
If it’s super-secret, why do we know about it?
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COMMENTS (2)
  • Tylerl-dav1
    9/18/2017 - 08:56 a.m.

    In response to "SpaceX launches Air Force's super-secret mini-shuttle," I agree that we should use more unmanned shuttles. One reason I think we should is that we want the least amount of deaths and we don't want anymore Apolo 13's. Another reason is that it leaves less room for human error. A third reason is they take fewer materials. Boeing was able to make a ship 29 by 14. Those are just my thoughts.

  • BrandonC-pay1
    9/27/2017 - 02:11 p.m.

    maybe because some one at SpaceX leaked the "super-secret" info

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