The Dec. 28 mission was the X-37B’s seventh launch. The Boeing-built spacecraft serves as a testbed for new technologies for both the Defense Department and NASA. Its first flight was in 2010.
“This was a very important mission and our teams worked shoulder-to-shoulder to ensure a successful launch,” Brig. Gen. Kristin Panzenhagen, commander of Space Launch Delta 45, said in a statement.
While details about the duration of its mission and most of the payloads X-37B is carrying are secret, one of its experiments is a NASA project called Seeds-2, testing how different seeds react to long-term exposure to radiation in space. The Space Force said in November the mission will also experiment with “future space domain awareness technologies.”
“These tests are integral in ensuring safe, stable, and secure operations in space for all users of the domain,” the service said.
The X-37B’s most recent mission, OTV-6, returned in November 2022. During that mission, the vehicle included a service module that allowed it to carry more experiments than previous iterations. Those included the Naval Research Laboratory’s Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module experiment — which used solar power to create radio-frequency microwave energy — as well as two NASA projects similar to Seeds.
That mission also included FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the Air Force Academy.
Thursday’s mission was the second to fly on a SpaceX rocket and the first to lift off on the company’s Falcon Heavy vehicle. The United Launch Alliance’s Altas V rocket flew the first five missions, and the sixth was carried by SpaceX’s Falcon 9.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.