SpaceX has delayed the scheduled launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, pushing back the mission of the enigmatic X-37B space plane. The delay, attributed to a ground-side issue, underscores the intrigue surrounding the secretive spacecraft, a vital asset for the US military’s exploration endeavors in space.
Resembling a compact NASA space shuttle with its windows blacked out, the reusable X-37B is poised for its seventh experimental mission, lifting off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. General B. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations for the US Space Force, sheds light on the classified tasks, emphasizing the space plane’s role in advancing space operations. “Sophisticated and uncrewed, the X-37B advances reusable spaceplane technologies and operates experiments in space,” states Barbara Barrett, Secretary of the US Air Force.
The delay is attributed to a ground-side issue, possibly linked to the rocket’s launchpad or fueling systems, according to SpaceX’s social media post. The company is diligently working towards the next launch opportunity on Tuesday at 8:14 pm ET.
The mission encompasses a range of experiments, including NASA’s Seeds-2, aiming to understand sustaining astronauts on future deep-space missions. The X-37B’s versatility allows for experiments in new orbital regimes, space domain awareness technologies, and the effects of radiation on materials.
The X-37B’s history includes launches on SpaceX Falcon 9 and Atlas V rockets. However, this mission marks the first time it will ride on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, the powerful operational rocket known for its triple Falcon 9 configuration. The increased thrust of Falcon Heavy enables the spacecraft to delve deeper into space, possibly reaching the “cislunar regime” between Earth and the moon.
While the duration of this mission remains uncertain, previous X-37B flights have seen an incremental increase in orbit time. The spacecraft’s last mission concluded in November 2022, with a remarkable 909 days logged in space, featuring experimental technology from the US Navy for solar energy conversion.
In essence, the enigmatic X-37B’s journey into space, hitching a ride on the mighty Falcon Heavy, represents another chapter in the US military’s quest to explore and push the boundaries of what’s achievable in the cosmos.