United Launch Alliance (ULA) is scheduled to launch the X-37B spaceplane abroad an Atlas V 501 configuration rocket for the U.S. Space Force in May this year.
The mission, designated USSF-7, will mark the sixth flight of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6). The launch will be conducted from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
The X-37B OTV is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. military. The primary objectives of the X-37B include reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to and examined on Earth.
The USSF-7 mission will be the 139th mission for ULA. It is the 84th for an Atlas V rocket and the 7th in the 501 configuration.
ULA recently launched the AEHF-6 military communications satellite abroad an Atlas V 551 configuration rocket marking U.S. Space Force’s first dedicated mission.
X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle
X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), is a reusable and unmanned spacecraft originally managed by the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (now the newly established U.S. Space Force).
Built by Boeing’s Phantom Works division, each spaceship has a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.5 meters) and a length of more than 29 feet (8.9 meters), and is a 120%-scaled derivative of the earlier Boeing X-40. The spacecraft is boosted into space by a launch vehicle, then re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and lands as a spaceplane after completing its mission in the orbit.
Most of the activities of the X-37B project are secret. The official Air Force statement was that the project is “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform”.
The two operational X-37B spaceplanes have completed five orbital missions and have spent a combined 2,865 days (7.85 years) in space.
The fifth mission of X-37B (OTV-5) was completed in October last year when the spaceplane successfully landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida. During OTV-5, designated USA-277 in orbit, the X-37B conducted on-orbit experiments for 780 days breaking its own record by being in orbit for more than two years. The spaceplane was originally designed for an on-orbit duration of 270 days.
The fifth mission was launched on Sept. 7, 2017, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on-board a Space X Falcon 9 rocket. The first four missions were launched aboard ULA Atlas V rockets.