WASHINGTON— The U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane will make its debut launch on the SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 7, the Air Force’s top civilian said Thursday.
“If the weather is good,” the Boeing-built X-37B will launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, announced U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who declined to comment on the nature of the mission the space plane will perform.
“It’s one of our experimental platforms,” she said during an exclusive interview with Defense News and Air Force Times on Aug. 31.
The September launch will mark the start of the X-37B’s fifth mission, during which it will be outfitted with the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, or ASETS-11, created by the Air Force Research Lab to “test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipes in the long duration space environment,” the service said earlier this summer.
“The many firsts on this mission make the upcoming OTV launch a milestone for the program,” Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, said in a statement. The RCO runs the X-37B program “It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV [orbital test vehicle] so it can more fully support the growing space community.”
Space publications speculated that a launch date would be forthcoming due to increased activities in Cape Canaveral. Early Thursday morning, Spaceflight Now reported that SpaceX had rolled out a Falcon 9 rocket onto Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A for static fire tests later in the afternoon.
The X-37B completed its fourth mission on May 7 and has spent 2,085 days in orbit over its entire lifespan. During the most recent 718-day period of operation, the plane conducted on-orbit experiments, the nature of which were not made public by the U.S. Air Force.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.