A classified US Air Force X-37B spaceplane has been successfully launched aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V.
The Atlas V was launched from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex-21 at 13:14 UTC. Following the launch, ULA CEO Tory Bruno confirmed the X-37B had been safely deployed by simply tweeting “139”, the number of successful missions completed by the company.
According to a ULA press release, in addition to deploying the X-37B, the launch also deployed FalconSat-8. The satellite was funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory and developed by the US Air Force Academy to conduct experiments in orbit.
The bulk of the payload aboard the X-37B is classified. However, three experiments have been identified in both ULA and US Space Force press releases. The first two are NASA material experiments and the third is an experiment sponsored by the Naval Research Laboratory. The experiment is designed to test the ability to transform solar power to radiofrequency microwave energy that can be transmitted back to Earth.
The launch marks the commencement of the sixth X-37B mission, designated Orbital Test Vehicle 6 (OTV-6). It is also the first time the X-37B was launched with the addition of a service module adding additional payload capacity.
Although the responsibility to launch, operate and land the X-37B has been given to the newly formed US Space Force, the fleet of spaceplanes remain assets of the US Air Force. The launch was the second managed by the newest branch of the armed forces.