SpaceX to launch spaceplane today before Irma arrives

SpaceX launched an unmanned space plane for the U.S. Air Force Thursday morning, as Hurricane Irma took aim at Cape Canaveral.

Although much is dependent on the weather as Hurricane Irma is expected to be around at the time of the launch.

The X37-b sits in a payload fairing atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in preparation for launch.

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This marks the first time that SpaceX was granted the opportunity to use its Falcon 9 to launch the X-37B, and it shows that the has confidence in the rocket's reliability rating.

Military officials said launching the OTV-5 mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket would add to the program's flexibility, demonstrating the X-37B can fly on two different types of boosters.

Yes, you read that correctly; this marked SpaceX's 16 overall successful landing of the Falcon 9 (and the seventh on terra firma).

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The X-37B is an "experimental platform" according to the US Air Force. It stayed in orbit for almost two years on its last trip to space before it landed at Kennedy Space Centre in May.

X-37B has been launched into orbit four times since 2010, accumulating a total of 2,085 days in space.

The X-37B, which looks somewhat like a miniature version of the retired Space Shuttle, has a wingspan of just under 15 feet and weighs around 11,000 pounds. Touchdown was near ideal, with the rocket landing directly on the launch pad's SpaceX logo. A deployable solar panel generates electricity for the mini-shuttle, and it does not rely on hydraulics for its aerosurfaces, unlike NASA's space shuttles, which were limited to missions lasting several weeks. The previous missions relied on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rockets. This mission is expected to carry some experimental payloads and deliver small satellites, along with testing electronics and heat pipe technologies over long-duration spaceflight.

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The X-37B mission that ended in May lasted for 718 days in space.

Although the Air Force has stayed mostly silent about the X-37B's details, a little information has trickled out from other sources.

A delay to Friday would diminish launch probabilities even further to 40 percent "go" as Irma churns about 650 miles to the southeast of the Eastern Range, which encompasses Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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Today's launch is going to be the last for a while from the Kennedy Space Center.

  • Israel Montgomery