Published: Fri, September 08, 2017
Worldwide | By Sean Reid

SpaceX launches super-secret spaceplane as Hurricane Irma nears Florida

SpaceX launches super-secret spaceplane as Hurricane Irma nears Florida

- Despite the incoming category 5 hurricane, Irma, SpaceX will perform a launch at 9:50 a.m. Thursday.

SpaceX can add another first to its ever-increasing list: On Thursday, it successfully launched an the U.S. Air Force's X-37B experimental spaceplane for the first time.

The X-37B, also called the Orbital Test Vehicle, weighs about 11,000 pounds (5 metric tons) and has typically orbited Earth at altitudes between 200 and 250 miles (320 to 400 kilometers).

A resuable shuttle, Thursday's launch is its fifth mission since its maiden flight in April 2010. The X-37B, built by Boeing, is an uncrewed vehicle, but resembles the Space Shuttle on a smaller scale.

The last mission lasted nearly two years and ended with a May touchdown at the runway formerly used by Nasa's space shuttles. For comparison, the space shuttles were 122 feet (37 m) long, with 78-foot (24 m) wingspans.

The X-37B is the first uncrewed space plane for the US, and is designed for reusability at a reasonable cost. About 10 minutes later, the first stage of the rocket came in for a picture-perfect landing back on a pad at the Cape. On all four previous flights, the X-37Bs rode atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V launchers.

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You can watch a livestream of the launch and landing attempt below.

But what exactly the X-37B does in orbit is classified - aside from launch and landing dates and minor operational details, the Air Force provides little on the vehicle's goal.

The space planes aren't very large, clocking in at 29 feet long and 9 feet 6 inches high, but they are able to stay in orbit for months or even years.

The SES 11/EchoStar 105 spacecraft has been delivered to Cape Canaveral from its Airbus Defense and Space factory in Toulouse, France.

There were concerns SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, would be forced to postpone the launch as Hurricane Irma threatens to batter Florida.

Another Falcon 9 rocket is due for launch October 4 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with the third batch of 10 next-generation voice and data relay satellites for Iridium.

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