SpaceX to launch top-secret military vehicle

SpaceX preparing for launch of mini spy space shuttle for US Air Force despite Hurricane Irma warning

The Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5) is taking off from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The blastoff, scheduled for Wednesday and delayed due to the bad weather, was SpaceX's first shot at launching the X-37B.

The X37-b sits in a payload fairing atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in preparation for launch. The booster's return to SpaceX's landing zone at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was broadcast live.

At the end of the landing burn in Stage 1, the rocket landed at Cape Canaveral successfully, amid cheers from the team. The successful launch this morning thankfully means that SpaceX and CCAFS can now focus on safely readying their facilities for a potentially catastrophic storm, and most importantly on evacuating themselves and their families.

Neither the Air Force nor SpaceX have disclosed a specific launch time, but a notice issued to aviators by the Federal Aviation Administration indicated that airspace would be closed between 9:20 a.m. and 2:55 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Falcon 9's upper stage apparently completed its orbit insertion and deployment maneuvers without trouble, and Air Force and Boeing officials called the launch a success. The previous missions relied on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rockets.

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What happened to the X37-B after the Falcon 9 rocket pushed the classified payload beyond Earth's atmosphere is a little less certain.

In a sign of how long the X-37B can stay aloft, the third mission lasted 674 days while the fourth, which concluded in May, spent 718 days in orbit. Its last mission lasted 718 days, or nearly two years. The X-37B is going to a higher inclination orbit than usual but the X-37B's main mission is classified and is being fiercely guarded.

This was the first time SpaceX has provided a lift for the experimental mini-shuttle.

Several firsts are planned for the OTV-5 mission. "This mission carries small satellite ride shares and will demonstrate greater opportunities for rapid space access and on-orbit testing of emerging space technologies". It's extremely possible that the X-37B could come down back to Earth a few years later.

The thermal spreader experiment will test three oscillating heat pipes.

The Air Force is known to possess two X-37Bs, both of which were built by Boeing. Just don't expect them to reveal anything juicy about the X-37B, because that's a secret.

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