Mysterious US Military Spaceplane Launches With Ability To Travel Farther Out Than Ever Before

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. military launched a secretive space plane Thursday night using heavier boosters that could potentially send it into an orbit farther from the earth than ever before, CNN reported.

Thursday’s launch is the seventh trip into space for the military’s X-37B multi-use, autonomous space plane, which resembles a small space shuttle, laden with classified experiments as the Pentagon keeps the purpose of each mission under a tight lid, according to CNN. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy booster that propelled the object into space from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is one of the most powerful rockets in the world and could place the X-37B in an orbit far distant from those achieved in previous missions.

“These tests include operating the reusable spaceplane in new orbital regimes, experimenting with future space domain awareness technologies, and investigating the radiation effects on materials provided by NASA,” the Space Force said in a statement previewing the launch. (RELATED: Biden’s DOJ Sues Elon Musk’s SpaceX For Only Hiring US Citizens)

The Space Force did not disclose the planned duration of the mission.

“We are excited to expand the envelope of the reusable X-37B’s capabilities, using the flight-proven service module and Falcon Heavy rocket to fly multiple cutting-edge experiments for the Department of the Air Force and its partners,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Fritschen, the X-37B Program Director.

Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations, called the experiments “groundbreaking.”

“The X37B continues to equip the United States with the knowledge to enhance current and future space operations. X-37B Mission 7 demonstrates the USSF’s commitment to innovation and defining the art-of-the-possible in the space domain,” he said.

In the past, the X-37B has launched from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket or the Atlas V, produced by a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, according to CNN. The Falcon Heavy produces more thrust than both the Falcon 9 and the Atlas V combined.

This time, the X-37B could reach the moon or even Mars, Paul Graziani, CEO of COMSPOC, a company that tracks objects in space, told CNN. If it does, firms and amateur space watchers will have a much more difficult time tracking the plane’s movements.

“I think it’s one of the most interesting things that’s happened in space in a long time, whatever it’s going to do,” Graziani told CNN.

The U.S. military can also conceal the vehicle in the glare of the sun or thwart tracking attempts by conducting frequent maneuvers, a capability the X-37B has demonstrated in the past, according to CNN.

Previous research conducted by the uncrewed space plane has included experiments in relaying solar energy from space to earth and testing the effects of radiation on seeds, according to CNN.

The launch streamed live on SpaceX’s website and X, formerly known as Twitter, which showed the side boosters break away from the vehicle and touch down safely to earth.

Technical issues held up the launch for more than two weeks, according to The Associated Press.

Since the X-37B entered service in 2010, it has logged more than 10 years in orbit and spent 2 1/2 years in space on its most recent mission, the AP reported.

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