UPDATE: SpaceX has stood down from four previous launch targets and is now aiming to launch the USSF-52 mission on Thursday, December 28. The article below has been updated to include this new information.
SpaceX is planning to launch its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, December 28.
The USSF-52 mission will deploy the U.S. Space Force’s experimental X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle on its seventh flight, during which it’ll complete a wide range of tests, including radiation effects on materials provided by NASA.
It’s the first time for Falcon Heavy to launch the X-37B as a United Launch Alliance rocket usually carries the space plane into orbit.
The uncrewed space plane’s most recent mission ended in November 2022 after it spent a record 908 days in orbit, beating its previous stay in space by 129 days. Since its first mission in April 2010, the X-37B has accrued a total of 3,774 days in space.
The vehicle bears some similarities to NASA’s now-decommissioned space shuttle, but the X-37B is about a quarter the length at 29 feet (8.8 meters).
The Space Force describes the space plane as “an experimental test program” aimed at demonstrating a range of technologies “for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force,” adding that its two primary goals are to develop “reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space, and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”
The mission will be the Falcon Heavy’s ninth flight and the first since October, when it launched the Psyche spacecraft on a mission to explore a metal asteroid. The rocket has three times the power of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket (it is essentially three Falcon 9 boosters strapped together). So, with 5.5 million pounds of thrust, Falcon Heavy launches are always a sight to savor.
There’s also the added spectacle of the two side boosters returning to Earth for an upright landing shortly after launch.
SpaceX is aiming to launch the Falcon Heavy from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, December 28.
The team is targeting 8:07 p.m. ET (5:07 p.m. PT) for the launch.
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