SpaceX prepares for Falcon Heavy launch of DoD spaceplane this weekend

The X-37B spaceplane is a reliable, reusable, uncrewed space test platform designed to carry experiments to orbit and return them to Earth for evaluation. (Image credit: U.S. Department of the Air Force photo) (U.S. Air Force)

SpaceX plans to launch the X-37B spaceplane from Florida for the U.S. military on Sunday, carrying some classified experimental missions to orbit.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will launch the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle on Sunday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station during an undisclosed launch window. It will be the first time the Boeing-built spaceplane flies with SpaceX.

The launch was initially planned for Thursday but was pushed to Sunday due to launch delays and pad availability, according to the U.S. Space Force.


FILE-A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6) stands ready on May 15, 2020 for a scheduled launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Gett

The spaceplane is an orbital test platform for different test and experimentation missions, some of which are classified. Since its first launch in 2010, X-37B has spent 3,774 days in space through six missions. This seventh mission, known as OTV-7 and designated USSF-52, will fly unclassified and classified experiments.


A NASA experiment called Seeds-2 will expose plant seeds to radiation during a long-duration spaceflight. A previous version of the experiment flew on X-37B's last mission for more than 900 days. 

Without the exact launch window or a public forecast from the Space Force 45th Weather Squadron, the FOX Forecast Center said there is a 50% chance for favorable weather throughout Sunday.

With afternoon thunderstorms in the forecast on Sunday, a morning launch window would be the best chance for SpaceX to launch the Falcon Heavy and X-37B spaceplane.


Launch forecast for Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. (FOX Weather)

If the launch goes later in the day, the launch probability chances will drop with rain and possible lightning around Cape Canaveral in the afternoon. This will mark the fifth SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch in 2023.

When the launch does happen, people in Florida will know. The Falcon Heavy is the world's second most powerful operational rocket after NASA's Artemis Moon rocket, the Space Launch System. 


The Falcon Heavy produces over 5 million pounds of thrust with three Falcon boosters and 27 Merlin engines. The two side boosters return to land at Cape Canaveral and create sonic booms that reverberate beyond Florida's Space Coast. 

It is also confidential when the spaceplane returns to Earth.


In this handout provided by NASA, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with the Psyche spacecraft onboard is launched from Launch Complex 39A, October 13, 2023 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo by Aubrey Gemignani/NASA via Get

X-37B has set new records for time in orbit with each flight. Its last mission ended in November 2022 after more than 900 days in orbit on a mission for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force.

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