A United States Air Force X-37B spaceplane currently being prepared for launch will be the first to make use of a service module.
The US Space Force (USSF) and its launch partner ULA are preparing to launch an X-37B spaceplane aboard an Atlas V 501. The mission, designated USSF-7, will be the sixth flight of an X-37B and the first to utilize a service module fitted to the aft of the vehicle. The service module is designed to give the spaceplane additional payload capacity.
“This will be the first X-37B mission to use a service module to host experiments,” said Randy Walden of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. “The incorporation of a service module on this mission enables us to continue to expand the capabilities of the spacecraft and host more experiments than any of the previous missions.”
Although many of the payloads and experiments aboard the USSF-7 X-37B are classified, a May 6 US Space Force press release identified four that will be carried aboard the vehicle.
Two of the payloads are supplied by NASA. These payloads are expected to study the effects of radiation and other space phenomena on, among other things, a materials sample plate. The final two payloads are the FalconSat-8 developed by the US Air force Academy, and an experiment developed by the Naval Research Laboratory, which will attempt to transform solar power into radio frequency microwave energy.
The USSF-7 mission will be the first X-37B flight managed by the US Space Force. The newest branch of the US Armed Forces will be responsible for the spaceplane’s launch, on-orbit operations, and landing. However, the X-37B fleet will remain assets of the US Air Force.
“This launch is a prime example of integrated operations between the Air Force, Space Force, and government-industry partnerships,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
The X-37B completed its fifth mission in October 2019. It is believed that the US Air Force X-37B fleet consists of two vehicles. Combined, the pair have spent a total of 2,865 days, or seven years and 10 months in orbit. The flight completed in October 2019 was the spaceplane’s longest to date with the X-37B landing after spending 780 days in orbit.