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Secret US military space plane launched in search of high orbit

Secret US military space plane launched in search of high orbit

The United States military's secretive X-37B space plane has taken off from Florida on its seventh mission, the first to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

The Falcon Heavy, three liquid-fuel rocket cores strung together, lifted off from its launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in a spectacular liftoff broadcast on a SpaceX webcast Thursday night.

The launch was plagued by more than two weeks of false starts and delays blamed on bad weather and unspecified technical problems, which led to ground crews taking the spacecraft to its hangar before continuing the flight to Jupiter.

China's robotic space plane, known as the Shenron, or “Divine Dragon,” was launched on its third mission into orbit in 2020, adding a new ingredient to the growing U.S.-China rivalry in space.

The Pentagon has released some details about the X-37B mission conducted by the US Space Force under the military's National Defense Space Launch Program.

The Boeing-made vehicle, which is about the size of a small bus and resembles a small space shuttle, was built to carry multiple payloads and carry out technical tests on orbital flights for years. At the end of the mission, the spacecraft re-enters the atmosphere and lands on an airplane-like runway.

It had flown on six previous missions since 2010, with the first five carried into orbit by Atlas V rockets from United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. , by Elon Musk.

Thursday's mission marked the first launch aboard the more powerful Falcon Heavy rocket, capable of carrying payloads heavier than the X-37B into space, which could be in geosynchronous orbit 35,000 km above Earth.

The X-37B, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, was previously limited to flights in low Earth orbit at altitudes below 2,000 km.

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