The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (X-37B) is Gearing Up For Its Seventh Mission

Since its debut launch in 2010, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle has spent more than 224 days in space – becoming one of the only unmanned spaceplanes used by the Pentagon.

As its presence has raised suspicion, including allegations that it’s being used to spy on Chinese space station residents or interfere with satellites in orbit, experts have dismissed such speculations.

X-37B Mission 1

After six successful missions, the Pentagon’s secretive X-37B space plane is poised for its seventh launch atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office will use OTV-7, the Occult Test Vehicle 7, to conduct experiments aimed at testing “new orbital regimes and future space domain awareness technologies.” Unfortunately, no further details were given as to where exactly it will fly.

COMSPOC, an organisation which tracks satellites in space, speculates the X-37B could reach geosynchronous orbit, where many massive communications satellites reside and thereby making it harder for observers on Earth to track its movements should it wish to remain hidden from view.

X-37B Mission 2

The Pentagon’s mini-shuttle, built by Boeing and bearing striking similarities to NASA’s defunct space shuttles. The Air Force has used it extensively for testing surveillance technologies and capabilities – with experts suggesting it might also be monitoring space for potential threats.

The Air Force has not provided specifics on what the X-37B will accomplish on its latest mission, designated USSF-52, but it is likely to test new orbital regimes and experiment with “future space domain awareness technologies”.

Experts note that the X-37B’s orbit can change frequently, making it hard for satellite trackers on Earth to track its position and help the military conceal their activities from countries that don’t sign the Outer Space Treaty.

X-37B Mission 3

Military officials may not want civilians to see the X-37B spacecraft, but civilian sky-watchers have still managed to detect its existence in space. Satellite tracker Russell Eberst of Edinburgh, Scotland was able to use publicly released launch times to spot this clandestine vehicle orbiting Earth during one 2017 mission.

Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, USSF-52, took flight on a Falcon Heavy rocket at Kennedy Space Center today for its seven-day mission. This endeavor aims to expand the spacecraft’s capabilities by testing new orbital regimes and space domain awareness technologies; additionally deploying NASA/Air Force payloads such as Naval Research Laboratory experiments that transform solar energy into direct current electricity as well as investigations of radiation effects on sample plates used to grow food and investigate radiation effects on seeds used for food growth.

X-37B Mission 4

The X-37B serves primarily as a testing platform, enabling scientists to study how payloads operate in space. On its last mission, Boeing-built spaceplane surpassed all expectations by staying in orbit for 908 days – setting an endurance record.

The Pentagon says its newest mission, USSF-52, will test technologies designed to “enhance existing and upcoming space operations” for military use. To conduct its tests, the military will utilize the massive Falcon Heavy booster, significantly more powerful than rockets used to launch the X-37B spacecraft into orbit.

COMSPOC would use geosynchronous orbit to search for the spacecraft, where massive satellites circle Earth 22,400 miles (36,000 kilometers).

X-37B Mission 5

The X-37B was developed to test technologies used by the military, such as conformal reusable insulation and lightweight electromechanical flight systems. It can accommodate seven experimental payloads ranging from cubesats to larger satellites for testing purposes.

Barrett believes the latest X-37B mission, OTV-6 and launched May 16, will expand its capabilities. The Air Force plans on testing it in new orbital regimes while conducting experiments for future space domain awareness technologies.

The X-37B resembles NASA’s retired Space Shuttle, though it cannot carry passengers. Owned and operated by the newly formed Space Force – another branch of military.

X-37B Mission 6

On its sixth flight, the X-37B (also known as USSF-52) hitched a ride aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time – marking its inaugural ride aboard an even more powerful rocket than those used during previous launches such as SpaceX Falcon 9 or United Launch Alliance Atlas V.

The Air Force and Boeing describe the X-37B as primarily serving as a testing platform, enabling researchers to see how payloads perform over extended periods. Additionally, it conducts experiments in space as well as research on materials and other technologies.

X-37B Mission 7

The Air Force recently began an X-37B mission, though its purpose remains unclear. Although officially it’s being used as a testing platform, outsiders have speculated it could play various military roles–even spying on other satellites.

OTV-7 will test future space domain awareness technologies according to the Air Force and conduct a NASA experiment designed to determine how plant seeds react when exposed long term to space radiation.

The X-37B’s ability to fly autonomously in space makes it an ideal platform for conducting covert experiments, while its design allows it to reach orbits beyond those reached by traditional satellites. That has led some amateur space trackers to speculate that it may head toward cislunar space between Earth and Moon.

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