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Air Force sets May 16 launch for X-37B spy plane

Air Force sets May 16 launch for X-37B spy plane
The U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on May 16. File Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., May 6 (UPI) -- The Air Force plans to launch the sixth mission of the uncrewed X-37B spy plane into orbit May 16 from Florida with a record number of experiments on board, an official said Wednesday.

Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett confirmed the mission during a live broadcast related to the new U.S. Space Force that was aired by the non-profit Space Foundation.

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The space plane remains an asset of the Air Force, but it will be launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket by the Space Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is adjacent to Kennedy Space Center. No launch time was announced.

Barrett said the mission, officially called USSF-7, will push "the boundaries for reusable space systems" and highlight the plane's unique capabilities.

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Experiments are to include studying the effects of space travel on various materials on board, and the effect of space radiation on seeds, Barrett said.

The ability to test new systems in space and return them, without traveling to the International Space Station, is unique to the X-37B program and helps the United States to maintain military superiority in space, according to the Air Force.

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The mission will be the first time the Boeing-built plane uses a service module to host experiments. The module is an attachment at the rear of the vehicle that allows additional experimental payload capability to be carried to orbit.

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The mission also will deploy the FalconSat-8, a small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory to conduct several experiments in orbit. The satellite will carry five experimental payloads for the academy, along with two NASA experiments.

Another experiment from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory will transform solar power into radiofrequency microwave energy, with the goal of transmitting that energy to the ground.

The Air Force completed a fifth space plane mission in October 2019, landing after 780 days on orbit, extending the total number of days spent in orbit for the spacecraft to 2,865, or seven years and 10 months.

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