December 29, 2023 at 1:19 pmDecember 29, 2023 at 3:52 pm
Private space company SpaceX has launched a mysterious US military drone into space on a research mission. After weeks of delays, the Falcon Heavy rocket blasted into space with the X-37B space drone on Friday evening (2:07 a.m. CET) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX showed the launch live on its website without mentioning the drone. Little is known about the US Air Force's autonomous and reusable spacecraft. It was also not clear where exactly it was flying on its seventh mission.
Before the launch, which was scheduled for December 7, the US Department of Defense announced only that the mission included “several pioneering experiments.” These included, among others, “the operation of the reusable spaceplane into new orbits.” The effects of space radiation on various materials will also be studied.
China has its own space drone
The solar-powered X-37B orbital test vehicle was developed for the U.S. Air Force by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
It's the size of a minivan and looks like a scaled-down version of NASA's space shuttles, which were decommissioned in 2011. In previous missions, the X-37B conducted tests for NASA on the effects of radiation on seeds and other materials.
On December 14, China also put its unmanned space plane called “Xinlong” into orbit. According to China's official Xinhua news agency, Shenlong was supposed to conduct experiments “to provide technical support for the peaceful use of outer space.” Xinhua was very vague about the duration of the mission. (CDU/AFP)
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