As the world was transfixed on the first crewed launch from US soil in nearly a decade, the country’s Space Force quietly deployed a subsatellite from the classified X-37B spaceplane.
The OTV-6 X-37B mission was launched aboard an Atlas V 501 for the US Space Force on May 17. Although much of the spaceplane’s cargo was classified, a prelaunch press release did identify payloads for NASA, the US Air Force Academy, and the Naval Research Laboratory.
On May 30, it was confirmed the OTV-6 X-37B had deployed a subsatellite identified as USA 300. Currently, no orbital data nor a clear indication of the identity of the subsatellite has been released. This is however not unique as much of the classified spaceplane’s activities are shrouded in secrecy.
Despite the lack of concrete confirmation, reports have suggested that the subsatellite is the FalconSAT-8, one of several payloads revealed prior to the launch of the OTV-6 X-37B mission.
The FalconSAT-8 is a microsatellite developed by the US Air Force Academy in partnership with the US Air Force Research Laboratory. The satellite is reportedly an “educational platform” to perform technology demonstrations developed by the Academy’s cadets.
The satellite carries five such demonstrations. These include the Magnetogradient Electrostatic Plasma Thruster (MEP), the Carbon nanotube experiment (Canoe), and Skypad, an experiment that integrates a low-SWAP (size, weight, and power) package with off-the-shelf cameras and GPUS.
The OTV-6 X-37B mission is the sixth for the classified spaceplane and the first to make use of a service module, which increased its payload capacity. Additionally, the mission was the first to be launched and managed by the US Space Force. However, the X-38B fleet curiously remains the property of the US Air Force.