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Secretive X-37b space plane blasts off on another mystery mission

By T.K. Randall
December 29, 2023 · Comment icon 36 comments

What will the X-37b be up to this time ? Image Credit: United States Air Force
After several delays earlier this month, the enigmatic vehicle has finally headed back into space atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
Resembling a miniature version of NASA's now-retired space shuttles, this pint-sized robotic space plane was passed over to the US Department of Defense back in 2004 and has since embarked on a series of secretive orbital missions, sometimes spending over two years at a time in space.

Its last mission, which began in May 2020, ended in November 2022 after 900 days.

There had been plans to launch the X-37b again earlier this month, but a series of aborted countdowns due to bad weather saw that delayed until late on Thursday.

The flight marks the 7th mission for the enigmatic vehicle since its debut in 2010.

It isn't clear what it will actually be doing in space, but according to the air force rapid capabilities office, its mission will involve testing "new orbital regimes" and "experimenting with future space domain awareness technologies."
Just like its Chinese counterpart (the Shenlong or 'Divine Dragon') which launched on its own secretive mission two weeks ago, it's not difficult to imagine that it will also be carrying out some sort of clandestine surveillance.

It may also be no coincidence that both vehicles have launched so close together.

"It's no surprise that the Chinese are extremely interested in our spaceplane," said Space Force General B Chance Saltzman.

"We're extremely interested in theirs."

"These are two of the most watched objects on orbit while they're on orbit. It's probably no coincidence that they're trying to match us in timing and sequence of this."

Source: The Guardian | Comments (36)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #27 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 months ago
If we knew that it wouldn't be secret It hasn't been on the previous six flights.
Comment icon #28 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 months ago
It was originally designed for NASA and was supposed to be flown inside the space shuttle cargo bay. The USAF (and the the USSF) only took over the programme after NASA cancelled it.
Comment icon #29 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 months ago
@joc I think you might like this:  
Comment icon #30 Posted by Shadowsfall 4 months ago
Not trying to be obtuse or a CTist …..but in your opinion which on this subject I rate very high why do they need the secrecy ….
Comment icon #31 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 months ago
I genuinely don't know. It's a Catch 22 situation, without knowing what it's carrying there is no way to know why it's secret, but because it is secret there is no way of knowing what it's carrying. The military love secrets, but that is sometimes necessary to retain an advantage over potential enemies. 
Comment icon #32 Posted by Shadowsfall 4 months ago
So scientific experiments and maybe military capabilities….
Comment icon #33 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 months ago
Almost certainly military capabilities, it's a military mission. It does carry a few, unclassified, NASA experiments, but the rest of the payload is USSF and USAF.
Comment icon #34 Posted by Shadowsfall 4 months ago
Is it a space force mission…??
Comment icon #35 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 months ago
Yes, the 2 X37-B craft belong to the USSF.
Comment icon #36 Posted by Shadowsfall 4 months ago
What are its capabilities WD….

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