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

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

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

It's the fifth flight for one of these crewless minishuttles. It is 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. It ended with a May touchdown at the runway formerly used by NASA's space shuttles. The first one launched in 2010.

As has become customary, SpaceX landed its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral. This was 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 needed

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

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

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

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

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If it’s super-secret, why do we know about it?
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  • Kohlsent-eic
    9/28/2017 - 12:00 p.m.

    That is sick.THat is so cool that they can do this.Because people coulde notdo this back in the olden days.

  • peytonm-lew
    9/29/2017 - 01:08 p.m.

    This is really interesting. I can't believe this I knew that they could send people to space but, for that long is crazy. I really like this it's a shame the goverment and military keep a lot of stuff like this a secret.

  • Gavinh-bru1
    1/16/2018 - 04:54 p.m.

    In this article "SpaceX launches Air Forces super secret mini shuttle" it states that the length is 29 feet long and the wingspan is 14 feet long. Also SpaceX has stopped giving details out. It is SpaceX's 16th success. That is all we know, the rest is secret.

  • Alexr-eic
    10/15/2018 - 10:48 a.m.

    First of all, It's pretty cool that they're sending a rocket to space and that they also broadcasted the all whole thing.

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